Mat­tanu Pri­vate Game Re­serve: A breed apart

Nomad Africa Magazine - - Inside -

I am a Chris­tian and I don’t sup­port witch­craft, but these spir­its are real and I’ve seen my sis­ter go through the san­goma ini­ti­a­tion. They make you sick and you have to an­swer their call. Dur­ing the rit­ual, she had to sac­ri­fice a goat and drink its blood. It was scary and painful.”

in the core of Africa’s pow­er­house. Soweto is said to be the dwelling place of the most pow­er­ful heal­ers in Gaut­eng. One of them is Gogo Mpilo (born Neo Mang­wana), a high-tech san­goma with a pro­fes­sion as Pub­lic Re­la­tions Prac­ti­tioner and Change Man­age­ment Man­ager. We meet her in a hair sa­lon, while she is dy­ing her dread­locks.

“I’m dy­ing my hair red,” she ex­plains, “be­cause I miss hav­ing ledu­mani (red coloured soil that is ap­plied on a San­goma’s hair),”. Gogo Mpilo ex­plains that she got per­mis­sion from her an­ces­tors to washout ledu­mani from her hair. She only ap­plies ledu­mani, when at­tend­ing a cer­e­mony. “Ledu­mani colour red brings me closer to my an­ces­tors.” Red is the colour of the African soil and sym­bol­ises the hu­man roots in the ground. “Even when you go through the int­waso ini­ti­a­tion, you have to ap­ply ledu­mani on your hair.” In her child­hood and youth, Neo was of­ten sick and doc­tors could not di­ag­nose

the source of her ill­nesses. This is a com­mon treat to ev­ery san­goma and is con­sid­ered to be a sign of the an­ces­tors claim­ing the per­son for them­selves. “I knew at a ten­der age that I had been called to be san­goma,” she ex­plains, “and my fam­ily did a cer­e­mony to plead with the an­ces­tors to give me more time as I was too young. As I grew up, I chose to ig­nore the agree­ment my fam­ily had with the an­ces­tors. I did not want any­thing to do with the an­ces­tral call­ing be­cause I thought the call­ing would limit my per­sonal dreams. The an­ces­tors started los­ing pa­tience with me and fi­nally I an­swered my An­ces­tral Call­ing.” Now Neo op­er­ates un­der the san­goma name Gogo Mpilo ka Mn­deni (‘the one who brings life to the fam­i­lies’). She ex­plains that her gift is to bring restora­tion, peace and hap­pi­ness to peo­ple.

When we get to her house, Gogo Mpilo de­scribes the cer­e­mony of her ini­ti­a­tion and grad­u­a­tion and proudly shows her san­goma clothes, ex­plain­ing the mean­ing of var­i­ous prints on her gar­ments. The shield of the swati tribe de­fends the healer from evil spir­its; her ishoba, a bushy tail of a blue wilde­beest that only san­goma grad­u­ates can use; a drum made of ele­phant paws she uses dur­ing var­i­ous cer­e­monies; bones she uses for con­sul­ta­tion (uku bhula); as well as the im­phepho (he­lichry­sum peti­o­lare) in­cense used to com­mu­ni­cate with the an­ces­tors. Gogo Mpilo kneels on the floor and claps

her hands to in­form the an­ces­tors of the visi­tors. She starts the process by greet­ing and say­ing the totems of her an­ces­tors. We can hear the words “thokozani Bo­gogo na bo Mkhulu” (‘I’m grate­ful’) and the rhyth­mic clap­ping of hands. Now we have the an­ces­tors’ per­mis­sion to en­ter her in­domba (a san­goma’s con­sult­ing room). It is a neat room equipped with the lat­est tech­nolo­gies. There is a bath tub, where the pa­tients can get cleansed and in a cup­board there are nu­mer­ous jars filled with muthi. One is used to gain re­spect, an­other is said to solve con­flicts, a third one is used for pro­tec­tion.

Gogo Mpilo, as well as many other san­goma heal­ers, is a mod­ern and suc­cess­ful woman with an ex­treme affin­ity to her peo­ple’s tra­di­tions and to na­ture. “Look­ing at the moon,” she says, “you can un­der­stand a lot about peo­ple’s life. When it is up­side down, it is hold­ing some­thing, and as it turns through­out its phases it spills what’s in­side caus­ing a lot of changes,” Other nat­u­ral el­e­ments she re­lates to are the veld (the South African prairie), where the evil spir­its get lost, and wa­ter bod­ies, where the an­ces­tors dwell and rest. Gogo Mpilo rep­re­sents fe­male wis­dom and sen­si­bil­ity, and in her prac­tice as a san­goma she em­bod­ies the cen­tre of town­ship life.

South African spir­i­tual be­liefs are a com­plex patch­work of an­cient tra­di­tions and new-age trends. The South African pop­u­la­tion, which is split in tens of eth­nic groups, is highly Chris­tianised but also re­tains deep ties to an old sys­tem of val­ues, where an­ces­tral spir­its, nat­u­ral pow­ers and cus­tom­ary laws are sov­er­eign. In a vor­tex of dif­fer­ent habits, rit­u­als, prayers, dances and chants, mir­a­cles and prophe­cies, a gen­uine san­goma idles at the back of the South African re­li­gious carousel and claps her hands for peace and heal­ing.

Above Left: Kids play­ing at the Mai Mai tra­di­tional mar­ket. Mai Mai is the equiv­a­lent of a tra­di­tional clinic. San­go­mas op­er­ate here and you can find any kind of 'muthi'. Left: Skulls and an­i­mal skins dis­played at Mai Mai tra­di­tional mar­ket. All types...

Above Right: A woman guards a lion skin for sale in­side Mai Mai.

Far Left: The front of Mama Sha­bal­ala’s clinic lo­cated next to an au­to­mo­tive spare shop at the Mai Mai mar­ket. Left: The phar­macy's shelves. Herbs, dried an­i­mal body parts and con­co­tions to heal from any ill­ness are on sale here. If it can be used as...

Above: Mama Sha­bal­ala is a wise san­goma. Her clinic is in­side the Mai Mai tra­di­tional mar­ket.

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