I went to a sangoma the other day.
For those who don’t know, this is a ‘witch-doctor’ – the more acceptable modern term is ‘traditional healer.’ They hold a special place in South African culture, as well as a political one – this is something we owe to Nelson Mandela and will be a curse for eternity because they have far more political power than they deserve, but that’s another story altogether.
Not all sangomas are created equal. Some genuinely attempt to heal ailments with the use of herbs which may or may not be of any use but is rooted (pardon the pun but I’m not removing it) in ancient healing traditions which did, sometimes, work if the ailment was not too severe. But, unfortunately, there are many charlatans who promise all sorts of absurd results such a ‘bring good luck’ , ‘get a job’, ‘get rid of mistress’, and the all-time favourite in this country ‘penile enlargement’. People pay good money for this quackery and some are terrified of the sangoma’s magic power. Many people have been swindled out of their life’s savings by unscrupulous characters, and let’s not even talk about the very very evil ones in remote areas who deal in body parts.
This sangoma, who didn’t give his name, is in Gugulethu, one of the big townships in Cape Town, and I was with a tour guide who needed a French interpreter for his 6 clients. I was thrilled with Marc’s township tour because it’s very interactive and takes in more than one township. I have warned him that I am going to alter my tour accordingly and he’s happy with that because it’s going to benefit his favourite charitable cause – more of that another day. I just need to build up the courage to drive through suburbs riddled with gangsters. Apparently this is a piece of cake. Manenberg, Heideveld, Bonteheuwel, here we come, with the help of google maps and gps. Okay, maybe not Manenberg.
So, we arrive at No-Name Sangoma who operates out of a tiny smelly shack at the end of a quiet street. The clients had been game for everything until now but the sight of this pitch black and extremely stinky interior really put them to the test. The 7 of us crowded inside (Marc stayed outside, he said he wasn’t needed, yeah right, thanks) only to find a young woman client already there. We tried to retreat but the sangoma chased her away. Euros are better than rands.
He explained that he had been guided by the ancestors from childhood, via dreams, to become a sangoma. He pointed to various bottles and packets and dead animals and told us which was used for what purpose. Simply put, powders and potions are for treatment of physical ailments and animals are used for mental issues, such as good luck, get a job, etc.
He must have been disappointed with our visit because not a single euro changed hands. We came, we listened, we smelled, we left.