When the mind forgets the body

When the mind forgets the body

MAFETENG – AS a beautiful, “clever” woman, Sello was once the envy of many in her village of Qhobosheaneng, Ha-Lempetje in Mafeteng district. Now she has become an outcast and she has faced death threats after being labelled a witch.
Life has turned into a living hell for the 83-year-old and her story reads like a horror script. Her survival recently, as a mob bayed for her blood was nothing short of miraculous.

Sello escaped death by a whisker as incensed villagers in the neighbouring Ha-Ramarothole wanted to set her ablaze because they thought she was a witch.

She was saved by the owner of the house on whose window she had knocked while naked, barefoot and holding a night chamber pot.
The owner of the house was also convinced that Sello was a witch but decided to spare her life
He opted instead that she paid a cow as a fine Sello’s family’s promised to pay the fine and she was released in the morning after being saved from the crowd that wanted to burn her.

Medical experts say Sello’s actions could have been the result of hallucinations associated with old age. But in a country where elderly people are usually viewed as witches and have been attacked as a result, few in the community seem convinced by the medical explanation.
Even Sello believes she is in some spiritual world, telling thepost during a visit to her dwellings that she sees ghosts.
Others in the community remember how she was once viewed as one of the village’s model citizens.

Sello was a beautiful, clever woman who was always neat, said the village chief of Ha-Lempetje, ’Masamuel Makhonofane.
Makhonofane said she grew up in the same village as Sello before becoming a chief so she has always known her from childhood.
Makhonofane says even though Sello was already married when she was a teenager, the two were close.
“We always wanted to be like her,” recalled Makhonofane.

Sello started behaving strangely about three years ago when she turned 80, said Makhonofane.
Makhonofane said Sello was very close to her husband’s aunt and alleged was a “self confessed witch”.
Makhofane said even after the death of the aunt, Sello was always cheerful and did not mention anything about seeing ghosts.
However, about three years ago, Sello began talking to herself.

“When we asked her about it, she said she was seeing strange people inside her yard,” Makhonofane told thepost.
Makhonofane said Sello told her that the people she saw in her visions demanded to be given food and even stole groceries to cook for themselves.

Makhonofane said Sello’s actions worsened last year.
She said she was sleeping with her family in her hut one day when the door opened and they woke in fear only to see Sello standing near the door carrying a blanket saying she was looking for her cat.

Makhonofane said Sello claimed that her cat was being used by witches so it ran away from home.
She said a few months later, Sello was seen “every day using vulgar language and hitting unseen things with a stick”.
Makhonofane said one night Sello came running into her house telling her that there was a man in her bed who refused to wake up.
She said it was around 3am in the morning.

Makhofane said she followed Sello and found no one on the bed.
Sello’s bedroom is partitioned by a curtain and she claimed that behind the curtain there were “so many dead people, they were like sorghum grains in abundance”.

Makhonofane said she opened the curtain and saw no one.
Makhonofane said Sello refuses to go to the clinic because she does not believe that she might be suffering from a mental illness.
Medical experts say such behaviour is common with people of old age.

Serialong Mokitimi, a psychologist at Mohlomi Mental Hospital said elderly people like Sello need to be sent to the hospital’s psychiatric unit for treatment.
Mokitimi said Sello is just hallucinating because of her mental illness. There are no witches and ghosts in her house.
“This is a psychotic episode,” she said.

Mokitimi said Sello might be a danger to herself because of the hallucinations.
She might end up burning the house or doing something dangerous thinking she is doing it to the ghosts and witches, said Mokitimi.
Sello does not believe she needs medical treatment.

When thepost visited Sello last week, the octogenarian was kneeling in one of her three houses. She refused to look up, fearing she would see the witches and ghosts.

Behind the house that Sello uses for cooking is a tall tree from which she claims the ghosts and witches appear.
She claimed the witches and ghosts usually enter the house she uses for cooking.
“What is sad is that they use my grocery,” she said, claiming the previous owner of the house could have suffered the same fate of seeing ghosts.

Sello is lucky that nobody has harmed her yet. Her experiences are associated with many elderly people who are often labeled witches. Some have been torched to death, stoned or expelled from their villages.

Some organisations have committed themselves to assist the elderly as well as raise awareness to change public perceptions of old people.
Lithoteng Bo-Nkhono Titimelang Tšepong is one such organisation whose objective is to help the elderly and raise awareness about their challenges like dementia.

Mojabeng Mofolo, a member of the organisation said society fails to distinguish dementia from witchcraft.
The Elderly Care Services Manager in the Social Development Ministry, ’Matiisetso Chabalala, said dementia affects the mind.
She said it mainly affects the elderly but one can still be diagnosed with Young Onset Dementia (YOD) at the age of 45 depending on circumstances.

She says dementia occurs at three stages – moderate, mild and severe.
“The moment it reaches stage three, one becomes incontinent,” Chabalala said.
However, not every elderly person suffers from dementia, she said.

“One can have it depending on different experiences they encountered during their childhood and how their body is built,” Chabalala said.
She said a person diagnosed with dementia person could suffer hallucinations, become absent minded, exhibit absence of cognitive abilities and inability to differentiate between right and wrong.

Such a person also forgets a lot, suffers from sleep disorders and has a major probability of waking up at night with or without clothes thinking it is daytime.

“When she or he wakes up, they can go wherever their mind leads them hence when people see them they assume they are witches,” she said.
“Unfortunately, it is not curable and instead of being treated, it progresses,” she said.

She said there are only two ways to deal with dementia: medication and being surrounded by strong family support.
“They need a calm environment and if one stays in an aggressive place the situation gets worse,” said Chabalala.
She said the ministry provides counselling to families dealing with a relative with dementia.
“We assess the situation before intervening,” she said.

She said that the ministry works in partnership with Dementia Lesotho and Maseru Women Seniors Citizens Associations (MWSCA) and financially supports their awareness campaigns.

Chabalala said after realizing that a lot of elderly people were being abused and killed on accusations of being witches “we enrolled in an ongoing campaign called Awareness Creation Programme which is aimed at teaching the public about ageing and its issues”.

The programme was launched in 2017 in Mafeteng, with similar programmes expected soon for Thaba-tseka and Qacha’s Nek districts.
People should stop taking the law into their own hands and understand the issues that elderly people go through, she said.
“They should rather refer them to Counsellors for assistance,” said Chabalala.

‘Makhotso Rakotsoane & ’Mapule Motsopa

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