The inventor of birth control pill, the science of menstruation, and cancer

One Wednesday morning (12 December 2012), I wrote a Facebook status that read as follows:

“Okay it seems that everyone is updating something about 12-12-12. Like what’s the fuss about? Or ya, and henceforth we will never have anything like 13-13-13 and etc etc until the next century.


lemme rather update about something I found rather interesting from the book penned by Malcolm Gladwell. Having not a prior exposure to Biology in my life, this was interesting thesis to indulge in. After reading the chapter about John Rock (The inventor of birth control AKA oral contraceptive), I now understand Why women experience abdominal pains, mood swings and other complications during menstruation and why women who have many kids( 3 or more) have less chances of suffering from cancer?”


Of which, this status was received with more curiosity from two ladies insisting that I share more about this, with more emphasis on Menstruation and Cancer.

Take note that I have never written a book review or a chapter review before, and what you are about to read is what might be describe as a “dry rhetoric”. Bear with me as I try to give an account on how I understood Malcolm Gladwell in that Chapter on John Rock and how he erred in inventing the birth control pill.

I Consider Malcolm Gladwell one of true genius when it comes to letter writing, so much so that I have read all the books he penned from the famous ‘outliers’ to ‘what the dog saw’ including some of the article he wrote for ‘The New Yorker’.  Malcolm Gladwell in What the Dog Saw in the Chapter about John Rock, the inventor of birth control makes moving account and an interesting perspective about women’s health, the pill inventor, religious perspective (the pill and the pope), cancer and the science of menstruation. I will dwelleth on the latter two on instruction of the aforementioned Facebook friends.

The ideal which the inventor of the birth control pill sought to achieve was to curb unwanted pregnancy. However, his ideals were undermined by the church he religiously followed. Although, this was met with much criticism, the birth control pill is widely used today and unfortunately John Rock died not having witnessed the efficiency of the pill he invented. Although the pill is widely used today, it appeared to Gladwell that John Rock did not know (or rather he was not conscious) about women’s health. 

I do not know much about women’s health in general and about the science of menstruation in particular, however Gladwell wrote that “…a women of childbearing age has a menstrual cycle of about 28 days, determined of course by the cascades of hormones released by her ovaries.” It is said that a combination of oestrogen and progestin floods the uterus, of which its lining becomes thick and swollen in preparation of the implantation of a fertilised egg, and failure of which will cause the lining – ‘the endometrium’ – “to be sloughed off in a menstrual bleed”.  In fact one of the respondents to the Facebook status, Queen (not her real name for the sake of anonymity) asked me if I am suggesting that birth control pills cause abdominal pains. No, Queen that is not the case. In actual fact, apparently John Rock knew that the effect of the Pill’s hormones on the endometrium could make women not to menstruate because the pill suppresses ovulation and the oestrogen and progestin decrease the chances of the lining of the uterus.

Another interesting account I picked up from the book is the story about a young scientist name Beverly Strassman who took a voyage to Africa to live with the Dogon Tribe of Mali, with an attempt to understand the reproductive profile of the women in that tribe, and the nature of the biology during times that precedes the modern age, especially owing the fact that the said women never used contraceptives. She (Strassman) also did a study on when and how many times did the Dogon women menstruate during their lifetime if they lived to eight decades or so. She found that on average Dogon women menstruated about hundredth times as opposed to Western women who menstruated somewhere between three hundred and four hundred times.

Strassman further found that the number of menses is not greatly affected by differences in diet, method of subsistence and culture as many people would make us believe. Gladwell wrote that to Strassman and others in the field of evolutionary medicine, this shift from a hundred to four hundred menses is enormously significant.

The writer of the book, Is menstruation obsolete?, the authors Drs Elsimar Coutinho and Sheldon S Segal – leaders in contraceptive researchers – argues that incessant ovulation has become a problem for women’s health. They further said that it does not mean that women are better off the less they menstruate. In fact, there are times where women have to raise eyebrows if they aren’t menstruating.

Apparently, in obese women, a failure to menstruate can signal an increased risk of uterine cancer. In female athletes, a failure to menstruate can signal an increased risk of osteoporosis. Gladwell wrote. For most women, Coutinho and Segal say, incessant ovulation serves no purpose except to increase the occurrence of abdominal pains, mood shifts, migraines, endometriosis, fibroids and anemia. However, the serious of all is the greatly increased risk of some cancers. In no way did these two researchers suggest that incessant ovulation causes cancer, but by the mere occurrence that whenever a woman ovulates, an egg burst through the wall of her ovaries and to heal that  puncture, the cells of the ovary will have to divide and reproduce. After all, cancer occurs because as cells divide and reproduce they sometimes make mistake that cripples the cells’ defence against runaway growth.  

 What I found interesting as I read this chapter was the fact that every time a woman falls pregnant and bears a child, her lifetime risk of ovarian cancer drops 10 percent because apparently, between nine months of pregnancy and the suppression of ovulation associated with breast-feeding, she stops ovulating for twelve months – and saves her ovarian walls from twelve bouts of cell divisions.

It is true that reading gives you intellectual bling bling and more swag than you can ever imagine. Many short stories that Malcolm Gladwell narrates in this book are something that a person my age wouldn’t know, and dare I tell you it will make me an interesting person in the company of uninteresting goats!



Posted by on December 20, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Does it mean I am learned after my degree has been conferred on me?

Of late I find myself wrestling with rather odd questions; questions such as “Will I be ready for the real world after I have graduated?”, “Does it mean I am learned after my degree has been conferred on me?”, “Will I able to tender my resignation should I find the environment in which I work unfulfilling?”

Hard work and fun is what life is all about. Wouldn’t you agree? (A picture of Dumirocks)

Of all the students I feel sorry for, are those in my position. As the year draws to a close; for many people that means the preparation for end of year examination is in order, but for graduands the stress is mounting as they prepare for departure to the ‘real world’. Graduands find themselves wrestling with the idea of going to a place of employ or taking a gap-year in the exotic islands of Caribbean. The truth is these people are suffering from nervous conditions at this stage of their lives.

What really bothers most graduands is whether they are ready for the corporate world and the responsibilities that life after college offers. What will I be doing everyday of my life as a graduate and a professional. Many people who walked this path tell me that I am going to spend a better day at the premises of my employer, that sounds fantastic so long as I will grow both personally and professionally.

I did not initially plan to moan and nurse my anxiety concerning my prospects after the rector has given me a tap o the head and conferrers that Bachelor of Commerce. But what worries me is whether the University prepares its student adequately for the world outside college? As much as the health of the bank balance must always be favourable in order to enjoy the luxury of life, I hold a view that suggests that graduates ought to be socially responsible citizens, one which endeavors to critically challenge the status quo.

I wonder how will those charged with managing universities will react when I say that it is the university’s imperative to develop graduates that are highly sought-after, who are multi-faceted, are able to engage openly and think constructively and independently? Universities are academic institutions and as such students main focus must be centred around academics,getting good grades and to a lessor extent downing a glass of beer as I am doing in the picture embedded on this post. However, what benefit does it hold for a society if universities produce students who can simply read, learn and regurgitate information? I believe that university’s goal is to produce graduates that can critically analyse and question what is being shoved to them as established truth.

What does being learned mean? Does holding strings of degree define a learned man? What if he is irresponsible and self-centred with no interest on what is happening around him?

Politicians are quick to pronounce that educated people are needed to serve the needs of the economy (forget that most of these politicians academic credentials is questionable). A good friend of mine (@JustSaySid) holds a view that says we must educate people so as to prepare them to be full participants of democratic processes in this South Africa and that extend to debating a proposed green paper to doing a submission in either houses of parliament. Did I also mention that he wants to work for the Parliament of the Republic? This must be one patriotic chap! I, on the other hand honestly think that education can and should be able to inform people to discern reality from political ramblings, to appreciate life more by giving us the power to read for pleasure, write poetry to the standard of Pablo Neruda, compose music better that Beethoven or try to understand the world better and so on and so forth and stuff like that……

In all seriousness, to me education means development. Personal development and engagement in intellectually-charged conversations that seek to challenge those I interact with on a daily basis. After a number of years I have left this historic centre of learning named Stellenbosch University, I will be glad if I can be defined as learned by the virtue of the traits that I am an agent for social change, a responsible citizen, and individual who think independently, counter-culturally and open-mindedly. Learned I will consider my self…

But that’s enough from me. What do you think it means to be a learned individual?


Posted by on October 20, 2012 in Leadership


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The sword of leadership is criticism, embrace it!

It is your birthday today and your significant other get you a nicely wrapped package with a note “Happy Birthday, With love X”. This gesture clarifies the appreciation and love that this person has for you. Likewise, leadership comes with its own packages, albeit not neat. Frustrating moments, tears, joys and criticism are part of what is in the leadership bag. In other times, a package with a note “My dear leader, with due respect, you suck and seriously so” adorn your ears. What do you do when you are encountered with such words? Do you take this criticism constructively  and fix your inequities or do you go on a defensive mode?

I am a young fellow, very young to have not witnessed Nelson Mandela’s release from Robben Island. In the past I have been a member of few societies on campus because it is in these societies that you drink wine [sic] and meet dazzling and radiantly beautiful ladies. However, moments later you realise that wine and cheese do not matter any more, and real issues needs to be confronted and addressed if circumstances permit. It is in this stage that problems arise and your character as a society leader gets tested. Senior members will hold you accountable to the very last word as promised by your annual plan of action.

At this hour wine glasses are broken and bottles empty. Fortunately enough the corkscrew is still intact – it is the human mind that is tinkered with fermented fruit juice. You, as a society leader might believe that the members’ questions or any utterances they throw are informed by the irrationality of fruity water they just consumed.

Those you lead will always have grievances with the manner in which you conduct business.They will seek clarity and question whatever looks suspicious and more often than not doing so while criticizing you. The emotional intelligence required by this turnouts from your team or members is that you embrace whatever criticism that might come your way.

My membership in these campus societies taught me that there will always be opinion leaders – often mistaken as echo-chambers – who will criticize you and question every line item on the financial report. In most cases their thoughts are valuable and emotionally charged. You need to keep calm, shut your mouth and open your ears when you are being criticized. When you have heard these “echo-chambers” you will be a better and effective leader. In fact keep these people at bay, never let them sail away from your harbour for they are the most important resource in your society.

You hear something along this lines “You are a pretty crappy leader”, take this constructively,  gather your thoughts, down a glass of water and give a calm response that is not driven by emotions!

The sword of leadership is criticism and your shield humility. Embrace it and do eat a humble pie should situations dictate!


Posted by on September 22, 2012 in Leadership


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A lesson in history

Prior to reading this post, please bear in mind that I am a proponent for Affirmative Action and/or Black empowerment of any kind. I argue in favour of this not because that non-blacks be denied opportunities in this country. I do so because I am of a firm believe that structural damages caused by the legacy of apartheid needs to be repaired.

It seems that my fellow citizens of a lighter skin tone are antagonist to anything that seek to advance the black race economically.  I acknowledge the fact that we are living in the new democratic dispensation and as such every citizen must be afforded equal opportunities in order to live a better life as promised by the ruling ANC. However, it worries me that whenever a big corporate announces a job vacancy with a clause that those who will be considered are people from designated groups; there becomes a furore threatening boycotts against the company involved.

It should be unreservedly acknowledged that the apartheid history left an indelible mark to those who were considered sub-human during those dark days. A beautiful country such as South Africa, today faces challenges of many kinds. We are at the bottom of the foot chain in terms of quality of education in the world, people continue to perish as a result of communicable diseases and spatial developments in our communities leaves much to be desired. These challenges still prevails largely because of the disadvantage that the descendant of those suffered the injustices of the past bears.

For a corporate company like The South African Airways and Woolworths to adopt the Employment Equity policies is a gesture of attempting to address the inequities of  the past. Such interventions are implemented not to disadvantage the minorities in this country, but to correct the wrongs of history and put every citizen on an even playing ground. I mentioned two companies in particular, because, certain group of people threatened them not to buy at Woolworths nor fly SAA after they have publicly announced that the vacant posts are reserved for targeted groups.

It is to err to think any company that introduces Employment Equity plans discriminates against white people. It should be further understood that Employment Equity plans seek to address the shortage of designated groups in certain categories of employment, and to address these, a pool of applicants (largely black) is targeted.

It is the imperative of the constitution to fix our society so as to achieve the ideals of equal opportunities for all, that the opposing Democratic Alliance envisage. In actual fact, Affirmative Action is enshrined in our constitution as per section 9 (2). Therefore, it is fitting to assume that policies such as Employment Equity are necessary to fix the system; it does not fix itself.

My dear reader, walk with me down the memory lane as I remind you that Employment Equity policies are necessitated by some of the policies implemented during the scavenger-era of apartheid. Job Reservation Act, which prohibited black people from getting certification for their skills and trade is a case in point.

Lesson to be derived:

If there is a lesson to be derived in the history of apartheid and the prevailing state of affairs is that whatever decision you take, whatever choice your make, these might have a profound adverse impact on your descendant.

It is therefore unwarranted for the solidarity groups to oppose employment equity and to declare boycotts against those companies implementing Affirmative Action.


Posted by on September 7, 2012 in Politics


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Everyone must attend a TEDx event…. inspiration inside!

I have  a dream. My dream is to speak at a TEDx event. I have a lot of passion I can speak about. Attending a TED Global conference would be like winning a lotto jackpot.

I only had an opportunity to attend a TEDx event. I can only share you my experience from attending a TEDx event. Enjoy…

One of the speakers and the CEO of Mxit, Allan Knott-Craig

We survive with a great deal of motivation. Whenever I seek a dose of inspiration, I switch on my computer and consume my downloaded TED Talks. When I heard that TEDxStellenbosch was to host its third annual event at Spier Wine Farm, my interest to attend was piqued. My university’s institute for leadership development, FVZS (short For  Frederick Van Zyl Slabert) sponsored me and other 19 cool people to attend the event on capacity as student leaders.

The theme of the Tedx event was What if Africa? Why what if Africa, you may wonder. This theme couldn’t have been suggested at a better time than this. Africa is a continent of a gloomy past, yet a bright future. Perhaps, if we start asking these questions, solutions that might drive change and inspire action might be born. Speakers gathered at the event and inspired attendees by asking visionary questions – questions that started with three words: What If Africa?

Not only was I particularly inspired as an attendee, but I was challenged to do the things that I strongly believe in. By the end of the day my mind was filled with a sense of wonder. I found myself being exposed to many new ideas and concepts including:

  • Taking pictures is an act in two direction
  • Internet can be used to conserve and advance environmental cause.
  • Economic prospects in Africa
  • How can Technology be used to stimulate interest in teaching and learning
  • Jonathan Shapiro asked a poignant question of “What if Africa embraced openness?

Question that attendees asked? What if Africa?

You see many people ignore opportunities such as this, not because they do not have time nor money to attend, but because they are not aware that these events offer an excellent networking opportunities. During breaks I found myself interacting with former Tedx Stellenbosch speakers and other thought leaders. My mind was fueled with new knowledge on the day.

The theme behind TED is “ideas worth spreading.” Just imagine how intellectually enriched we we going to be if we shared and spread ideas? I do not know the answer to that, but I believe that the quality of our thinking would improve and that would ultimately improve the quality of life in our communities.

The event itself was filled with diverse speakers from different backgrounds. They however, had one thing in common, the love for Africa and her development. Speakers displayed passion and fervor as they delivered their talks. It was interesting to be there. Here is my appeal, next time you see a call to attend a TEDx event, be the first one to grab a ticket. However cheap it is, however expensive it is, get that ticket anyway. Be inspired and share ideas.

If you were to deliver a TED talk what would your speaking topic be?

What if Africa encouraged its students to share and spread ideas in their campuses?


Posted by on August 12, 2012 in Leadership


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Honour thy woman…..


Prof. Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Price in 2004.

Women played a pivotal role in the past in the Republic of South Africa. They are the ones who marched to union building in protest of pass laws. Africa especially gave birth to women heroine whose selfless spirit champions the vision of women in the developmental state in Africa. Africa gave birth to beautiful daughters: daughters who uplift the spirits of their hopeless siblings, while reminding them that with dare attitude, dedication and nourishment of their talent they too can climb the celestial heights.

I am talking about women such as the recently elected chairman of the AU, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the first African woman president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, and the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Price, Dr Wangari Maathai. These are women which young girls can look up to and be fueled with inspiration to do great things.

To encourage o’mama nabo sisi be Africa, I believe in inspiration, and I hope that by embedding this video below, they will be motivated. The speech is delivered by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, and it is titled Women entrepreneurs, example not exception and in her speech she encourages women to be entrepreneurs and calls women to move beyond what she terms “micro-ambitions’.

Malibongwe igama lamakhosikazi!


Posted by on August 9, 2012 in Business, General


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Empower thy woman, ignore the brilliance of guys!

I am an ardent reader of a certain industry magazine called Accountancy SA. Those who have been fortunate to read the magazine will agree with me when I say it somewhat boring, somewhat interesting, and somewhat controversial. Am I writing a letter to the editor? Hell no, I am not.

Actually this post is about the empowerment of women and their leadership potential. In her article titled “women as authentic leaders”, Ms Mulder, Senior  Executive for Transformation and Growth at SAICA, wrote that “Women are ‘hard-wired’ to be authentic leaders, as most of these qualities are in-born. Our male compatriots are too often hindered by oversized egos and the need to compete, which is reflected in the troubled societies of today”. After reading this, I got an impression that Ms Mulder suggests that the world is in chaos it is because of men. Interesting…

I feel like more and more women are empowered this days. It can be argued that this is done to address the imbalances of the past. I am not insensitive to the fact that women were oppressed for far too  long, however the empowerment afforded to women comes with great cost of ignoring the brilliance of guys. These women are obviously empowered to be able to fend for themselves, to become authentic leaders as Ms Mulder puts it and more importantly to contribute to humankind.

The question we should then be asking is “Are more women becoming leaders, given the opportunities they are offered or is it still an investment in vain?” I am of the opinion that, even though great deal of investment is planted in developing women and their leadership capacity, the train is moving slow on the rail.

Ms Sheryl Sandberg – the COO of Facebook – diagnose the problem as to why we have few women leaders, and the answer lies in the video embedded below:

On conclusion, I believe that in order to live in thriving, sustainable society, we need to get away with the gender stereotype, because to do so is to ignore the brilliance of guys.

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Posted by on August 2, 2012 in Leadership


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