This dissertation is an ethnographic exploration of gossip and rumour around the fear and distrust that surrounds a local hospital in KwaNdebele that has acquired a reputation as a slagpale (an Afrikaans term for slaughterhouse). Using ethnographic data gathered over an 18 month period, I examine how gossip (ukuhleba) and rumour (amahemuhemu) capture patient voices of discontent with hospital service while also being a means by which patients seek to discipline medical professionals and to warn others about possible abuse when visiting the hospital. The focus on gossip and rumour answers an often neglected question in scholarship, which is how patients respond to the widely reported power that medical professionals exercise over them? Furthermore, having broadly traced the uses of gossip and rumour in resistance to biomedical technologies to the 1800s, this dissertation moves beyond a focus on patient responses to examine the logic underpinning this resistance. To do this I compare three categories of traditional healers in KwaNdebele. I found that gossip and rumours also circulated about traditional healers although unequally among the three types. There is particular suspicion around non-initiating healers called amagedla who are thought to practice outside ancestral structures of control. I read the emphasis on ancestral regulation as a metaphor for communal control and accordingly conclude that biomedicine and its practitioners similarly meet with much resistance particularly because they are far removed and disempowering to what are often semi-literate and illiterate residents. Finally, the dissertation focuses on stories of hospital hauntings and deaths said to be connected with a diminishing traditional practice of ‘fetching’ the spirits of those who die at the hospital and shows that discourses around hospital deaths and burial rites are intimately connected to broader considerations that extend beyond the hospital setting to encompass socio-economic changes and resultant anxieties. These considerations are framed through an idiom of a call for a return to tradition and ultimately express a perceived crisis of social reproduction in post-apartheid KwaNdebele.
Dissertation (MSocSci)--University of Pretoria, 2018.