Breaking Free

Photo by Stephen Elliot in association with

I held up the scissors.

“We need to cut this off,” I said.

Kendi’s* hands went protectively to the red thread tied around her leg. We made eye contact. It wasn’t stubbornness that prevented Kendi from letting me cut off the string—it was fear.

A few weeks earlier when Kendi became very sick, her leg began to swell. She was told that people in her community had put a curse on her because they were jealous of how well her business was doing. As is the tradition in many communities, Kendi sought the advice of a spiritual leader—someone who mixed Christianity with the traditions of African spirituality. The woman tied a red thread around Kendi’s leg, promising that the thread would protect her and ward off evil spirits. Instead, Kendi’s leg grew more inflamed.

Now she lived in fear of
what would happen
if she cut the thread.

My heart was filled with both frustration and compassion. I’d seen how this dangerous kind of “spirituality” had woven its way into these communities, invoking fear and suspicion. Kendi, like all of us, was just seeking a way to make her life work.

She continued to listen to the counsel of this spiritual leader, refusing to rely on the power of Jesus.

We eventually lost touch
with each other.

It’s midday as I walk through Kendi’s community, the tires of taxis stirring up the dry ground into small puffs of dirt. The streets are lined with hair salons, repair shops and meat stalls.

I’ve witnessed the transformation of communities like this, just as I’ve seen people in Kendi’s situation break free from superstition. Slowly, this community is changing. Violence is decreasing. People are letting go of apathy and taking ownership of their lives.

When I think of Kendi,
I don’t lose hope.
Her story isn’t over yet.

Diepsloot, Johannesburg

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