Clinical psychologist Lerato Machetela is the founder of a dance group in Jagersfontein that provides young men with a means to express their emotions while still feeling like real men.
Members of her Diamonds in the Rough dance group have earned national attention and performed at the Mangaung African Cultural Festival, Bloem Show, International Museums Day and various Heritage Day celebrations.
Machetela formed Diamonds in the Rough when she was placed in Jagersfontein for her academic community service year, as the final step to qualify as a clinical psychologist. She created a gumboots dance school to give male teenagers a chance to freely express themselves.
“Due to the culturally embedded norm that ‘real men don’t cry’, men are denied the opportunity to experience and express their pain and humanness in an appropriate manner,” she says. Instead they suppress their emotions until they lash out in a way that is usually detrimental to their wellbeing. “The positive impact this group had on male teenagers inspired me to explore arts-based methods in research,” she says.
Working in Jagersfontein also showed her the insurmountable daily challenges people experience, which inspired her to pursue academic research that would have a direct impact. She is studying for a PhD in clinical psychology at Stellenbosch University by researching the traumatic impact that daily experiences of humiliation and depravity have on young people’s sense of identity. Her research has already received international recognition and she is often invited to speak at various academic conferences.
Her work with the dance group has also drawn attention from numerous businesses, which have awarded scholarships to some of the young men to further their studies.
Machetela says her interest in this field stems from her role as a school prefect. Many learners confided in her about personal challenges and she focused on trying to raise their self-esteem and instil positive thought patterns. “It was always fulfilling to witness the manner in which my peers’ quality of life appeared to change following the interactions. It was then that I saw the need for such a profession and the good it could do in the world, with the aim of having a positive impact on people’s lives and alleviating human suffering,” she says. “Now I am doing research that has direct impact and can leave a legacy behind.”
— Lesley Stones