About Advertise
Culture, Reality
21st Century Sangoma

21st Century Sangoma

by Lindokuhle Nkosi / Illustration by Chip / 05.09.2011

Dineo’s small arms are heavy with a multitude of red and white beads wound tightly around her wrists. Above them, ispandla made of goat’s hide. She pulls a Jenni Button jacket over her petite frame and heads to the Golf Gti parked in the basement of the Upper East Side Hotel. Onlookers, passer-bys and acquaintances who share the odd polite conversation would never know that she is a Sangoma. There’s a reddish-brown bible on her bookshelf. It props up a year’s worth of Glamour and Elle magazines; and in the corner of her studio apartment, next to the sliding door that looks out onto the mountain, a sacred shrine on an ox-blood red mat with candles, imphepho (incense), and a spear. There is a perceived clash here. Her apartment holds all the accepted hallmarks of an upwardly mobile modern woman. The greys, the matt blacks and the shiny silvers of post-modernism juxtapose jarringly with the bright crimson spirituality.

She speaks of being a sangoma nonchalantly, absent of the usual over-gesturing and pantomiming that usually accompanies conversations of this nature. She’s more comfortable with her calling now; shedding the long sleeves, high necks and head scarves she wore to hide the chains, beads and shells that signified her reluctant mission. A calling conveyed to her through a series of recurring dreams. In one dream, Dineo would see herself speaking to a woman in an indeterminable language. The woman would respond in her mother-tongue, telling her she has to thwasa. Breezing through my barrage of ignorant questions, she pauses often to explain to me the duality of being a 21st century sangoma. To her, there is no clash, and becoming a sangoma required little adjustment. She attributes this to having a very tolerant dlozi (ancestor).

“Some people’s ancestors are very harsh and strict. They aren’t allowed to wear shoes, they have to look and dress a certain way. Some aren’t allowed to work or go to school. They have to devote themselves fully to healing others. For some, the dlozi must evidence itself physically. If your ancestor walked with a limp, you will begin to walk with a limp. Your voice will change. Your tastes and preferences are altered. One girl who was at training with me, would be left in excrutiating pain when her ancestors entered or left her body. So painful that she would faint. My life however, hasn’t changed much. Every morning and evening, I burn imphepho to cleanse my spirit and my surroundings. I’m not allowed to eat pork and certain parts of an animal, and I have to introduce my partner to my dlozi to bless the union. On the face of it though, I am still very much the same person.”

A beaded white chain hangs off her neck, where a rosary used to be.

Somewhere in the bible, someone warns against the worshipping of false-idols, a prophet warns against false messiahs; but somewhere else in the sacred, ancient texts a holy spirit is sent to live amongst man. A burning bush conveys a command. An angel visits a virgin and tells her she is carrying the child of God. Refiloe Lerumo, a 23 year old business woman and sangoma, claims her ancestors are angels. To her they are medium used by god to convey messages and healing. She is another link in the chain, bringing the ancestral and godly gifts to the masses.

It is difficult to not be cynical of something that superficially, seems so ethereal. Religion and spirituality are often viewed by today’s thinkers as child-like, unrefined solaces for people who lack the ability to deal with the everyday oddities of life. Science is the new God. Science makes sense.

Weekly, The Daily Sun “investigates” laughable tales of withcraft. “Man buys lightning bolt to kill ex-wife”. Monthly, chilling stories about muti murders and suspected witches being burnt or bludgeoned to death make their way to News24. Daily, A8 sized flyers are forced into my hand. Generally Powerpoint productions that fade from blue to a deep purple as they outline, in fractured English, a myriad of ills and spiritual ailments that Gogo so-and-so claims to be able to cure. “Do you have low sex man power? Do you need amagundwane (mice) for riches? Do want to run away court case? Do you want to reduce vagina?” Unfortunately, there is no quality control in the spirit world. No checks and balances exist to distinguish charlatans from bonafide Sangomas, and get-rich-quick scammers who prey on desperation and, sometimes, ignorance. How then do you verify cause and claim in a space where a headache is most likely going to be seen as curse or a spiritual ailment, rather than a physical one?

According to South Africalogue, over 200 000 Sangoma’s practice in South Africa, and over 80% of the population use their services. With consultations ranging anywhere from R50 to R5000, being a Sangoma is serious business. No real barriers to entry + no regulations + no ceiling on fees or medicine prices = opportunistic swindler’s wet dream.

Then there’s the more baleful side. Muti-murders and witchcraft. Potions that rob people of free-will. Suspected witches being bludgeoned and burnt to death. The genitalia of young girls are used to concoct fertility medicine. Wise men are decapitated, and their brains brewed to make potions for increased intelligence. Human blood is consumed to strengthen health, and extend life spans. This is the side that no-one wants to talk about. Veiled in secrecy, the community of traditional healers is happy to leave the sinister aspects to speculation. Refiloe confirms that the use of powers and trade of human body parts is real. “Some people use their gifts to cause to cause harm, but it always catches up with them eventually. The ancestors cannot be abused.” Still, the practise continues, and with no open dialogue, very little can be done to eradicate it.

The Traditional Healers Organisation aims to provide some legitimacy. They train and certify traditional healers, but their attempts to lend them any credibility is undermined by their own administrational failures. None of the sangomas I spoke to were registered with them, and all emails and phonecalls directed to the organisation went unanswered. Suffice to say then, their fancy website aside, they will not be the new age bridge between traditional healers and western civilisation.

Refiloe is what I’ve termed a Cyber Sangoma. On her website, she offers online readings and consultations. Another opportunity to be sceptical. She says reason behind the website is to provide clients with convenient access to her, but however noble its intentions are, one can’t help but sartorially picture her dumping her bag of bones and die onto the keypad of a Mac computer. Without physical contact, how is Refiloe able to connect to some else’s ancestors? Are the ancestors at peace with their gifts being used in this somewhat impersonal manner? Is my inability to grasp this just another indication of my ignorance, and complete lack understanding?

Where white is the colour of peace and tolerance, harsh shades of red are the colours of being a Sangoma. Forceful and unrepentant, it burns brazen with the colour of passion and heat, defiant of whether or not it is legitimised in an increasingly critical world. But there is a lot of grey scattered amongst the red. Questions that cannot be answered. Conversations that will not be held. The murkiness of the unknown, the unquantifiable. And while there is no method to prove the unproveable, the industry continues to grow, raking in millions of Rands a year. This faith-based contract is built on cultural legacy and funded by today’s money; but despite its popularity and profitability, it is still largely unrecognised by both the lawmakers and practitioners of modern medicine.

We’re reluctant to openly embrace it, and yet we’ve included alternative eastern practise as part of modern life. Yoga in the morning, acupuncture for healing; what is it about sangomas that discomforts us so? Is it because it represents a part of us that was meant to have died a long time ago? A backward notion held by the natives who refuse to be integrated into a globalised South Africa? Or is our reluctance to recognise it actually a fear? A phobia brought about our uneasy relationship with the great “unknown”. Do we need Madonna to do for it what she did for Kabbalah? Maybe get Mandoza to jump up and down on Noeleen’s couch before we pay it any heed? Perhaps what we need to be doing, is accepting Traditional Healers as a relevant part of South Africa, and not a relic of the dark days. Because one thing is certain, our denialiasm will not deter its prevalence.

58   20
  1. damion says:

    I have a problem I get very bad stomach pains I’ve spent thousands on doctors and speacialists and no cause or solution I’ve been to a sangoma and they say I have a calling of mdawe and mguni, spirits mind my spelling amongst others I’m aware of the spirits I have from my culture “indian” but these are new to me and I don’t know a way forward because I’m also using ngobongo for joining the spirits and mtandazi spirits I need to know what to do for the pain because its very bad for now all I’m using is mpepu and candles but need more advise any help ?

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  2. ntosh says:

    hi ihave sent you an email this week,you havent answered me,i want to know did you get it i need your help lindokuhle

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  3. Anonymous says:

    I’m 8months pregnant and within the past some of my relatives have past away now my boyfriend’s relative has past away does this mean anything?

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  4. Dimakatso says:

    Hi I’m Dimakatso I like to know about my I have a feeling that everyone hates me and I don’t know why,and how do I protect myself from them

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  5. christopher says:

    Please send me money spells.

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  6. letlala motsoene says:

    Good Morning

    I would love to know If I dream of snakes in my bed and tend to run away from them, few of them with different colours what does that means? also when I dream of people chasing me and I run from them and end up flying on the roofs of the houses, trees and shacks what does that means, please help to interpret those dreams and the case of sitahlohana.

    kind regards,

    Letlala Motsoene (Mr.)

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  7. Louise says:

    It’s a pleusare to find someone who can think so clearly

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  8. anonymous says:

    Hlw can you please tell me what i have

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  9. sophie lekeur says:

    I want to know if u can help me with my money problems..what can i do

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  10. refiloe says:

    I lost my parents when i was 10 years old n now im 29 i feel like dey are still around me i see my dad in dreams n my mom 2 tell me she is still alive please advice

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  11. natashaceronio says:

    Hi I would like you to tell me if I ever goining to have money and what do I have to do to get it because I really need it

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  12. Kgwa says:

    I impregnated two women at the same time and I’m struggling to choose between the two please shed some light on who should I choose.

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  13. mimi says:

    Please help I have a calling in dreams I see so many things trainees, sangomas cloths beads . What do I do ? Pls help

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  14. monica says:

    halo iam Monica I have a problem I used to dream of water every time or dreaming myself inside the water or talking with unseen thing telling me that is de time to come and fetch me so I go to the sangoma she told me that I have to go ngiyothwasa and I have 4 amadlozi ,nginobundawo,indzundza,isthunywa,ibungoma so my grandmother said ledlozi lamanzi idlozi lakhokho wami then balivala ngembuzi emnyama cz ukhokho bekagula kakhulu so no one okhona ukulicqina leli lamazi so I don’t know what to do cz I want to fulfill all this thing so pleas help me what can I do.

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  15. Arthur says:

    I am very confused about my life and it is about to run out without finding exactly what my ancestors have chosen me and yet my life us blocked. No one seems to precisely point out where the actual problem eminated from. For years now I gave lost all and my kids are loitering without any assistance from me as a provider to be.

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  16. Peggy says:

    I’m person who have by many people from work,home even people they do not know me some they jealous me especially at work even the whites does not want me next to them why sick no cure pls help

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  17. Beverly says:

    Can you please send money for me

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  18. Motshidisi says:

    I have aproblem i just cant be happy like others

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  19. lebo says:

    I need help am loosing my bf because i cant become pregnant we try 11 month i need help

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  20. briget says:

    hey lindo im in need of money fast please assist me plz

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  21. Titus says:

    Can u help me with money plz?

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  22. Nobuhle says:

    I need to what happening with my life and help

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  23. Champ says:

    I'd like to say well done Matt.This is what we need on the web these days. The amount of links people are buying is ridiculous. Also there are too many people paying virtual assistants or company's to spam backlinks all over the web on completely non related sites. Although natural links being created by people on non related sites happens naturally and not as often as someone who is doing it prvycatioel-.Nice to see Google taking action on this.

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  24. Zibuyile magubane says:

    Hello I HV bad lucks can you please tell me what is wrong with me?

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  25. mandisa says:

    Hello I have dab lucks can you plz happy me plz plz plz plz

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  26. nkosana mazibuko says:

    I am 33 years old,I want to know of how to get amagundwane and what do they eat.I want to have money and be rich,can you help me.

    Please help me

    Yours truely

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  27. Tiisetso says:

    I am a trained Sangoma and Gobela, if you have any questions around thr ancestral realm and your life email me @nyanga.rising@gmail.com or call 0815383097

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  28. Herbert says:

    Good day

    With all the respect I am looking for a job and can’t find it. Too many things are falling apart and I can’t help it anymore. Can you please help in any way that you could please

    Kind regards

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  29. goodman says:

    I need your numbers

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  30. leana says:

    Please help with money spells

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  31. Busie says:

    Thokoza gogo. I recently found out that I have a spiritual gift of being a prophet. Growing up we did perform many traditional ceremonies etc. But having this beautiful gift scares me as I have no idea what must be done or how I conduct my life currently is the correct way. If you can refer me to a prophet I would highly appreciate it. I know that my ancestors will reveal everything in good time but I feel like I need to speak to a prophet. Thanks

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  32. Anonymous says:

    i and the father of my children have bad luck everything goes wrong can u help us

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  33. Palesa says:

    me and the father of my children have bad luck everything goes wrong we both your help

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  34. Anonymous says:


    I recently quit my job because i felt oppressed by my boss. Straight after that I graduated for my degree and have been invited to a couple of interviews. At times my interviews are rescheduled or cancelled and when I go to the interview it seems like they do not acknowledge my presence. Is there anything that I need to do to remove this shadow of darkness that is following me? I really wish I could get a decent job for once in my life .

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  35. Thokoza gogo respond me plz im stil waiting for my answer says:


    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  36. Thokoza gogo respond me plz im stil waiting for my answer,or whatsap me on that number plz says:


    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  37. tlou says:

    Hi. Iam 31 years old ever since i live i dnt knw de word hapiness .relationship thing s a disaster. M afraid to date bcz instead of finding love de love turn to hatred. They play me nonstop they come en tel dat m nt mirrage material. Like every body hates me. Wen i consult to sangomas no one is able to solve my prblm . I hv headaches. Womb pains. Dreaming of oceans. M seeing scary thingx. My toes are painful everydae during the nite. My life s a mess. I hv financial prblms.

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  38. mary says:

    Hi what should I do if my due date has passed I mean traditionally

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  39. Maphelo says:

    I want to known about my life.

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  40. Lizel says:

    hi im lizel and i am from Grahamstown Eastern Cape i would like to find out what the future holds for me the reason for this is that i always do things at the wrong time and the wrong place and it seems that i have been watched by an evil eye im having bad luck in everything i do i really need help if i can at least know what is going on with me

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  41. plaatjie Thato says:

    I have problem of boyfriend

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  42. Siphokazi falo says:

    Hai gogo my husband need u cn hlp me gogo plz plz plz plz her really need job

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  43. SB says:

    I need money urgently, I need to pay debts as soon as possible please.. please.. please..please.. please

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  44. Sugarplum says:

    Lizel, on Barthurst street opposite BP you can go consult for R100.

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  45. Dali says:

    Hi there, how can I contact the artist Chip, who made this illustration?

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0