I'm rattled by the convulsions of a sangoma

A sangoma's tools. (Allisha Azlan)

A sangoma's tools. (Allisha Azlan)

I recently found myself eyeball to eyeball with a sangoma.

Two female educators had asked me to transport them to a wedding in Hammanskraal, situated 48km north of Pretoria.

The vehicle belonging to one of the women had broken down. The two women could not be transported by the other lady’s husband because he was a sangoma and had challenges with ancestral spirits.

He was going through a stage of being unable to mingle with crowds.

The two ladies and I had a fabulous time at the wedding, spearheaded by a Bible-punching clergyman from the born-again Christian doctrine.

Let me hastily say that my own take on religion is to offer unqualified respect to all belief systems. One such system is the African way of doing things – through ancestral rituals.

Later in the day we dropped off the wife of the sangoma at her home village of Marokolong, on the outskirts of Hammanskraal.

African protocol dictated that we enter the house and stay for a while.
The sangoma offered drinks and snacks, as well as chitchat about this and that.

Suddenly the sangoma began to convulse, groaning and trembling.

I sat transfixed in an armchair while the two women calmed the man down by clasping his hands and muttering thokoza (calm down) until he recovered.

Then the sangoma turned to fix his eyes on mine and wanted to know, rather aggressively, from whence the Masilela clan originated.

I took him down memory lane: the migration of my grandfather’s people from the old Eastern Transvaal (now Mpumalanga), and how they ended up as livestock and crop farmers in Klippan, northwest of Pretoria.

The sangoma wagged a finger at me, and charged that the Masilela ancestry was furious with yours truly, and that he had a duty to assist me through certain rituals, to calm down those who lay buried in the belly of the earth.

My response was that I was in good contact with the Masilelas – among them my father’s offspring from his second marriage – and found it odd that the ancestors could be angry with such rapport.

The sangoma insisted that I was carrying a tokoloshe on my back.

Once again the man groaned and trembled, saying he was worried about me, and that the tokoloshe was also weighing heavily on his own shoulders.

Against a backdrop of suffocating tension, the two women interjected, urging me to take the story of the tokoloshe seriously, lest I suffer the wrath of the Masilela ancestry.

Now let me dare ask fellow Africans, black and white: Have some of these sangomas become so desperate? Can’t these brothers and sisters wait for me, or you, to make up my own mind about whether I should consult them?

Johnny Masilela is a journalist and author

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