Killer quacks will be the death of us all
I’VE BEEN thinking a lot about Masego Kgomo, the 10-year-old girl who was abducted in Soshanguve, north of Pretoria, on New Year’s Eve, 2009, and murdered in order to sell parts of her body for “traditional medicine”.
In particular, I have been trying to imagine the terror and pain she must have endured before she died, for, according to testimony before the Pretoria High Court, the girl was alive when one of her breasts and her womb was hacked out of her body, which was later dumped in dense bushes near a railway station.
The man who was this week jailed for life for her murder and six years for her kidnapping, Brian Mangwale, 30 – himself the father of two young girls – was led away smiling as a packed courtroom broke out in loud cheers.
Mangwale, the court heard, had received an order for human organs from a sangoma. He had then kidnapped Masego and taken her to his accomplices. Having done so, and fully aware of what her fate would be, he then joined her distraught family and the police as they searched for the girl.
He then returned to his accomplices to extract her body parts, which he later sold for R4 800.
Meanwhile, the search for Masego continued for several days and Mangwale would rejoin it as the family, local community and police combed the township. It was said he even pointed out to the police the bushes in which her halfnaked, mutilated body was found.
Mangwale’s accomplices and fellow murderers were not in court. Neither was the sangoma. In addition to showing no remorse whatsoever for his actions, Mangwale has refused to reveal their identities.
Soshanguve residents must be wondering if these people were still among them and, more importantly, if their children were safe.
Minister for Women, Children, and People with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana raised this point outside the court. “What is worrying is his accomplices are still out there. We are going to work hand in hand with the community and police to make sure they are apprehended. The law will not rest until these people are brought to book.”
Last week, on the eve of the 16 Days of Activism campaign, Xingwana announced muti killings were on the rise. In addition to Masego’s murder, there was the murder of three-year-old Athenkosi Nkone, of Gugulethu, butchered for body parts and then dumped, stuffed in a suitcase.
She said the government planned to meet “traditional healers” to discuss what one news report politely referred to as “the worrying trend”.
It was the same government, of course, which, in 2004, under the “guidance” of then-health minister the late Manto Tshabalala-msimang, ushered in the Traditional Health Practitioners Act. This legislation would, in her words, “affirm the dignity and respect” of these dangerous quacks.
And speaking of which, one advantage, according to Tshabalala- Msimang, of the regulations was “genuine practitioners can be distinguished from the charlatans”, and only those who were “properly skilled” would be registered in terms of the Medical Schemes Act and could therefore claim fees from the medical aid schemes of their “patients”.
At the time, in 2004, it was laughably suggested the legislation would set “professional and ethical norms and standards” and would benefit about 200 000 of these “healers” who would be regulated into four categories – “diviners”, or sangomas; “herbalists”, or izinyanga; traditional birth attendants; and, worryingly, “traditional surgeons”, or ingcibi.
The Department of Health estimated that about 70 percent of South Africans consulted these people before seeking professional help – a statistic it bandied about as justification for pandering to superstition.
Pardon me, but how would we distinguish one quack from another? What is the “proper skill” in throwing bones? In making up stories about ancestors? What are the ethics and standards when it comes to magic and wizardry?
We live in a world plagued by irrationality and backwardness. And it’s getting worse, judging by the proliferation of handbills and advertisements promising cures for HIV/AIDS and powerful erections with bigger penises and relief from angry women and success with business and debt recovery.
And yes, it is true not all “traditional healers” use human or even animal parts in their foul pastes and potions, and some may even be considered “spiritual” and “holy”, offering beneficial advice to the gullible and afraid.
But on the whole, they’re parasites who feed off people who really should know better. What’s worse, by sanctioning their practice we reinforce the harmful stereotypes of our continent.