Witch doctors' muti by mail order

Sydney Mathibe

South Africa’s witch doctors have learned the power of advertising. A cursory look at the classified sections of newspapers reveals a kaleidoscope of attention- grabbing advertisements aimed at the superstitious and the millions of dedicated muti-users.

The ads urge readers to send money, and promote dubious potions, herbal and chemical mixtures and powders purported to remove evil spirits, increase wages, enlarge penises, bring luck in money, love, exams, competitions and horses, and cure almost every disease.

The mutis and ngoma (fetishes) range in price from R30 to R950 and are available mainly through mail order.

In spite of the rapid advancements in medical and allied sciences this century, witch doctors, witchcraft and superstition still dominate the lives of many Africans. Their deep-rooted belief is not only manifest in rural areas, it is also a way of life in Africa’s cosmopolitan towns and cities.

The Traditional Healers’ Association and the Traditional Medical Practitioners have been formed to promote the profession, following in the footsteps of the African Dingaka Association, the oldest witch doctors’ organisation on the continent.

Despite the high unemployment rate and ever-escalating consultation fees charged by witch doctors and sangomas, their grip on their clients is solid.
Some of their cures have even stood the test of science.

In the 1970s, the late Khotso Sethuntsha of Kokstad - South Africa’s most famous witch doctor and a millionaire as a result - produced a powder claiming to rejuvenate sexual potency which he called Ibangalala.

Samples of the powder were analysed by industrial chemists and the University of Witwatersrand’s department of botany. The scientists were baffled by Ibangalala, they were unable to prove its composition or how it worked.

Sethuntsha, however, offered his clients simple proof of its effectiveness. He was then 90 years old, had 23 wives, 200 children and eight more on the way.

The most popular witch doctors or sangomas in South Africa today are Sosobala of KwaZulu-Natal, Never-die Mushwana of the Northern Province and Sebohlale Manetja of Matsana village in the Northern Province, who is only 10 years old.

Some witch doctors are clearly bogus. Two years ago a Soweto family kept their son’s decomposing body under a bed for nine days as a sangoma, Thanduxolo Danci, promised to revive him.

The family had paid R3 700 for the “revival” and when it failed to happen, reported Danci to the police, who arrested him and took the body to the mortuary.

In the Northern Province, women are regularly lynched by suspicious mobs after being pointed out as witches by witch doctors. More than 300 people died in witch-hunts in the province in 1995, says Sydelle Lebogo, a clinical psychology graduate of the University of the Western Cape. In April 1997, four women were lynched in 16 incidents and two women - one a qualified nurse - died after being burned.

“Although the police have on occasion rescued witch-hunt victims from enraged mobs, `witches’ cannot be arrested as there is always no proof that somebody is a witch,” said Lebogo.

Last year eight people who stoned and burned to death a 71-year-old woman in Sekhukhuni, Northern Province, were sentenced to 10 years in jail.

There is nothing that can be done to wean people from their costly belief in witchcraft and witch doctors, says Dikiledi Mathibe, a Benoni traditional herbalist and seer.

“Witchcraft and witch doctors have been with us since time immemorial. Didn’t you see sangomas driving away evil spirits before President Nelson Mandela’s inauguration at the Union Buildings in 1994?

“This has been our practice, culture and tradition since creation. It’s not superstition,” says Mathibe.

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