Multicultural muti messages

It is the latest version of the imported American ‘high five.” But it is a rather sluggish kind of ‘high five” to be indulging in. In other words, there are not two players to play the game. It is a one-sided kind of slapping of the palms — a sporting celebration without the camaraderie of slapping hands with a teammate or a worthy opponent who didn’t quite make the grade.

This is because the opponent is in fact no longer even alive. He or she is a mere passive participant in the sport.

This is how it strikes me as I read about the latest in a long line of human muti stories gracing the pages of South Africa’s more sophisticated journals. (For the real low-down, gory stuff, read any issue of new-kid-on-the-block the Daily Sun.)

Muti-mania is everywhere, it seems. The example I mention above refers to the case of a butcher in an unnamed town who would get up every morning and slap each slab of meat he was hoping to sell that day with a severed human hand ‘as a way of invoking the spirits to beckon customers”.

Should we be surprised? There are many ecstatic Christian sects who believe in the ‘laying on of hands” to cure the infirm. Millions of people believe in it.

In the case of our mysterious butcher-man, it was not enough to call on others to join him in a laying on of hands and the muttering of prayers to turn around what appears to have been a sluggish business. He had gone to someone, somewhere (probably his friendly local muti practitioner) and obtained the services of what must have been hyped as a truly lucky hand to carry out the task.

Or perhaps, in a worst-case scenario, he had gone out and gotten hold of a human hand himself. These things have happened before.

The only thing is, if you step into that kind of territory, you are entering the twilight world of grievous bodily harm at best, and murder at worst. The point is, the butcher-man saw nothing wrong with what he was doing.

Strange as it may seem, there are many amateurs and professionals who go out there and harvest body parts in this way. There have been reports that many human body bits make their way on to the open market through mortuary workers quietly supplementing their meagre salaries by relieving corpses in their charge of certain formerly vital organs, limbs and members.

You can see that, from their point of view, this is fair play. The previous owner of these used body parts no longer has any use for them, and they might as well be sold on to a good home. Life is tough anyway.

But more frequently, it seems, body parts have to be harvested to order. This means a suitable donor being identified and then relieved of the required organs — usually without the donor’s consent.

The practise of harvesting body parts for muti purposes is largely, but not exclusively, a rural practise in South Africa. According to The Sunday Independent, it is based on the belief that there is only ‘a limited amount of good luck around”. People, like our hapless butcher-without-business, who feel down on their luck persuade themselves that it is no bad thing to help themselves to body parts of others who appear to have all the luck going their way.

Hence the tale of a man who could not impregnate his wife, no matter how hard he tried, who therefore killed a man who had several bouncy, healthy children, cut off his penis, and used it for muti so that some of the dead man’s luck would rub off on himself.

One could spend the whole day sitting around swapping muti-mutilation yarns and end up sounding like those old white hunters sitting round a fire talking about the ridiculous ways of the savage ‘Afs”. It would all amount to nothing much.

Yes, we live, as our leaders ceaselessly tell us, in a two-tier society. We generally take this to mean that we live in a society of broadly white ‘haves” and broadly black ‘have-nots.”

The old apartheid fault lines have scarcely been disturbed, in spite of 10 years of delirious democracy. And the two sides of the equation continue to live in their separate, parallel universes — the 21st century, Americanised, Christianised, high-tech white world (with increasing numbers of Model-C darkies squeezing through every time the door is opened up a crack) and the murky, indefinable world of the super- stitious black world. The black world lives and breathes muti-culture.

Then, out of the blue, you rock up in Hertzogville. Or rather, Hertzogville rocks up on you.

Hertzogville is one of those twilight zone, one street, one-horse towns in the Free State where nothing has changed in decades, except the flag hanging limply over the local police station.

It is in Hertzogville that the saga of Oom Paul Meintjes finally spluttered to a pathetic halt this week.

Oom Paul died on July 1 at the age of 74. Not a bad innings, you would have thought. But his family thought otherwise, and allowed themselves to be persuaded by a local part-time prophet that Oom Paul would actually rise from the dead on July 29 and rejoin the happy family circle.

The deadline came and went, but Oom Paul’s wife refused to believe that all was lost, and continued to have Oom Paul sleeping in his coffin next to her bed until the growing stench persuaded the neighbours to call in the gendarmes, and the coffin was removed.

Poor Oom Paul was finally buried this week.

Oom Paul was a white man. Even in death, he and his family threw a spanner into the smoothly worked out ‘two-tier” theory of South Africa’s social and cultural reality.

Everyone, it turns out, has the capacity to believe in mumbo-jumbo. From the Lotto to the stock exchange, it all seems to be part of the national disease.

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