HER name means “to love” but Thandi Plaatjie preaches a tough combination of accountability and responsibility. Plaatjie, who works at Jeffreys Bay’s busy Healthy Mom and Baby Clinic, is outspoken and vehemently pro-life.
She is well aware she has a tough crowd to work with, and has no illusions about “her teenagers”.
“These girls know about sex. They are clued up. There is no problem with access to contraceptives. We do not know how to get through to them. They are not even scared of HIV.”
But when they come knocking on the clinic’s door with a crisis pregnancy or wracked by guilt following an abortion, she is the first to tell them that “God loves you”.
“They have to acknowledge what they have done. Abortion is killing. We tell them we don’t judge. We help them to accept the situation, and ask for forgiveness. It is something they will have to live with the rest of their lives.”
Plaatjie often has to be a master of diplomacy in dealing with the families of pregnant girls, but believes the rewards are great. “One of my teenagers named her child after me,” she smiles.
“Last year, one of my teenagers told me there was a girl who was pregnant but hiding it. I could not get hold of her. I was scared to visit her because the parents in this town know that if Thandi comes to visit – there is something wrong.
“She finally came to me. She told me her cousin was the father and her father was furious. Her father was an elder in his church. I did not know what to say to him. I just kept on saying, ‘you know what God said about abortion’.
“Two to three months later he had cooled down. The family decided to keep the baby.
“The boy … loves his baby.”
In another case, she took a teenager whose family wanted to force her to drink medicine that would lead to an abortion, to her house for a few weeks until her family situation had calmed down.
But it is not only teenagers who find a home at Plaatjie’s house. A year ago she heard of a baby who was HIV- positive and dying.
“The child was dehydrated. She could not swallow. The mother was always drunk. She left the child with someone who is not fit to look after children. The mother never even visited her when she was in hospital.
“She is doing so well now,” Plaatjie beams. “She will be a year in July. She is a little miracle and has been adopted by a loving family.”
As head of Dora Nginza’s termination of pregnancy clinic, Sharon Hobo performs 16 to 20 abortions a day. “We tell them we will try by all means not to injure them … the procedure takes less than 10 minutes if the client is cooperative. It is painful. They do scream.”
Unflinchingly practical and honest, Hobo says she tries to explain all the steps to her patients.
“We tell them what we are doing. I am used to it now. I still feel for them, I never want to treat my patients like an object.”
The busy clinic, squeezed between the psychiatric ward and dispensary, is flanked by a litter- strewn flyover, the windows covered by frayed, sun-bleached curtains. It is old and cramped, but for many teenagers in the Eastern Cape, Hobo is a lifeline.
She says the intention has never been to encourage abortion. “We are not here to encourage termination of pregnancy – but to offer a safe service if people decide to do it.
“We do not want to be here so women can practise unsafe sex. But we do have many who come back more than once, especially the young ones. It’s a big problem.
“I volunteered to come work here. I have been here for four years. I decided to be on the other side. At first I was not comfortable. It is a taboo to talk about termination of pregnancy, but when I was working at Cuyler Clinic in Uitenhage I saw lots of girls coming in with septic, unsafe abortions,” she said.
Sensitive to community stigma, Hobo says she tells her patients she knows people will think they have killed their baby.
“We advise them to tell someone but most of them want to keep it a secret. We tell them we can help anybody, but for support we ask them to talk to someone they trust. Some of the girls who come here were raped and they do not want us to touch them …”
When Hobo first came to work at the clinic there were only two nurses working there.
“I thought they needed a new, young face. The teenagers will turn and run away if they see an older person. But if you are young they can grab you, pull you aside and talk,” she said.