High tech healer busts myths

Namhla Tshisela

Namhla Tshisela

Meet Amanda Gcabashe, a finance wunderkind who is now one of South Africa's rare breed of high tech sangomas.

Log on to her website www.mphutungwane.co.za and enter makhosi, her mystic world of traditional African healing.

She asserts that taking this ancient African wisdom into cyberspace will shatter stereotypes about this revered but misunderstood call from the ancestors.

Gcabashe launched the website last year after nearly 10 years of practising as a sangoma and an inyanga.

"You can buy a book if you want to find out, for instance, about astrology, but you will not find anything about traditional healers," Gcabashe says. "There are many of us throughout the continent but we are relegated to the corners of obscurity."

She says traditional healing has always been shrouded in secrecy and as a result has acquired a stigma. She hopes her website will "create interest about learning more about the healing art of Africa".

Gcabashe says: "Whenever there are news stories about izinyanga or izangoma they are always negative."

Her site offers introductory lessons to those who are not familiar with the practice. A glossary of terms is included and some of the myths that persist about izangoma and izinyanga are explored.

She says people expect traditional healers to be "old men or women who live in little huts in rural areas".

Some struggle to contain their incredulity when they meet the 34-year-old.

She consults from her home at a country estate in a suburb on Gauteng's West Rand while her home in Northriding is being renovated.

The only thing that gives her away as a sangoma is the black, red and white ibhayi she wraps around her body, partly covering her denim skirt and a yellow Stoned Cherrie T-shirt. Her straight hair is tied in a ponytail.

"The website was not a way of advertising myself," she says. "Clients hear about me through word of mouth."

She believes consulting a sangoma is "a personal thing" and she maintains a strict code of confidentiality with her clients.

Gcabashe grew up in a Christian home and felt more inclined to live a life in the ministry because "I used to pray for people".

But a series of dreams and her first visit to a sangoma convinced her otherwise.

"I must confess I accepted the calling out of fear. People would tell me that if I ignored the call I would get sick or die. I had no intention of dying at 24. I still wanted to own a bank," she jests.

She started the process of ukuthwasa in 1999 while serving articles with a chartered accounting firm, becoming the first in her family to heed her vocation.

"My mother ran away from her calling all her life," Gcabashe says. "My grandmother was married to an Anglican priest and could not practise as a sangoma because it was considered taboo," .

She says there is a common misconception that traditional healers do not believe in God.

"African traditional religions do not frown on prayer. It is not my place to convince dogmatic people about the credibility of our practices. Why do we have to limit God to Anglicans or Christians?"

She does not regret heeding her calling and forsaking a life in the corporate sector.

"I can't say whether my life has changed for the better or for worse. I have gained and experienced things I wouldn't have had as an accountant. It is not about my career or bank account anymore. It's about how I can help others," Gcabashe says.

She does not throw bones. She counsels and dispenses medicines (imithi) she prepares.

She wants to open an indigenous health clinic in Soweto that will offer an affordable and multi-dimensional approach to health care.

"Health is not just about aches and pains. It has an emotional and psychological aspect. Sometimes people just want to be heard and counselled, and we offer that," she says.

She believes a time will come when traditional and Western medicines will be used together to treat various ailments.

"No one has bothered to study our medicines. The reality is that Western doctors and traditional healers faced the same problems of death and disease."

About attitudes to healing, she says medicines are useless if patients do not change their behaviour.

Referring to HIV-Aids she says: "I don't claim to cure Aids. I may dispense medicine to lower the viral load. I also don't encourage patients to stop taking ARVs because I believe in a multipronged approach. My medicine does not affect the efficacy of the treatment, but their vitality."