Mental health in focus

Covering the scars of unhappy times with tattoos

14 October 2020 - 14:43
By Londiwe Dlomo
FILE IMAGE: Ndumiso Ramate shows off his tattoos at the second Soweto Ink Tattoo Convention held on the 15th of December 2017.
Image: Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius FILE IMAGE: Ndumiso Ramate shows off his tattoos at the second Soweto Ink Tattoo Convention held on the 15th of December 2017.

There’s a saying  popular on social media that goes, ‘Thank goodness I don’t look like what I have been through’  which resonates with a lot of people. But what if you look like what you have been through? What if there is a reminder on your body of a dark time?

These are the people that the owners of Soweto Ink, a tattoo parlour, are looking to help.  For Mental Health Awareness Month, Sibusiso Dlamini and Ndumiso Ramate have pledged to help, free of charge, those who would like to cover up their self-harming and other scars with tattoos.  

Ramate says he became aware of this need among his clients and people in the community.

“I see them around me, some of them are my customers, they come through and they want to cover  scars and when you look at the scars you can tell they’re from something, or going through something, but they can’t really talk about it. They’re even shy to say to us 'please cover these scars', you can see shyness on their face.

"So they don’t normally speak out, it’s one of the things that we have been picking up along the way. There’s a lot of people struggling, there is a lot of people that come to us, there’s a lot of people that we have helped. So we came together and said we need to put this campaign out this year.”

Ramate says the campaign will be back again next year to help those in need.

The duo has also partnered with the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), stressing that they know people need to see professionals to assist with mental health issues. They have posted stories of individuals who they have assisted with covering up their scars on their business YouTube. Ongeziwe Ngubane from Orlando, Soweto, spoke about how she began self-harming in grade 10. She also went on to speak about how she has found healthier ways to cope. 

Ngubane had her self-harming scars covered with a tattoo of an owl.

"I feel like a person should just listen, don't listen to respond. Listen to me when I say to you, 'I'm not okay and I need someone to talk to', you're this person right now, so if you're going to tell me that 'no that's not real, you're going to get over it'… that's not's what's gonna happen it doesn't just go away… I think people with such issues need to be listened to, because half of them are scared because [they feel] they're going to be judged," she said in the video.

Ramate says the issue of mental health is still not easy to bring up in black families but people are speaking out more.  

“It’s still a big challenge among our people, you know some black families still will refer someone with challenges to find traditional solutions. They don’t tap into the issue of mental health, it doesn’t exist to them.

"Because I know, especially where I come from, they will tell you, 'you need to do a ritual' instead of looking into the problem. But people are slowly coming out and talking, they’re speaking out on social media even though they have families that don’t support them, they have people that support them on social media which is better,” he says.