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“How can a sangoma retire?”

Celebrity sangomas barking up wrong tree

Actor Thabiso Mokhethi says he's retiring as a sangoma.
Actor Thabiso Mokhethi says he's retiring as a sangoma.
Image: Instagram/Thabiso Mokhethi

 I am certain that, over the past week, the looming question in everyone’s mind is: “How can a sangoma retire?”

But, first context for those lacking. In the last week or so, former actor Thabiso Mokhethi, popularly known for his role on Generations, made a public announcement that he would be retiring from being a practising sangoma (healer). By the way, he is not the first celebrity, or former, to make the assertion that they are retiring from ubungoma – but that is not the point.  

He announced on his Instagram account his reason and journey towards this realisation. His decision to step down is cited as a function of choosing God and ceasing to partake in practices of the world. He details encounters with a pastor as well as the overall loss of family and friends, resultant of the journey, as driving tools in his AHA! moment.  

Mokhethi then decided to halt his consultations with clients, but said he needed to make a public declaration. He is quoted: The first thing I needed to do was to publicly resign because privately I was not seeing clients. I couldn’t even enter my ndumba[prayer room/ altar] any more, but that was not enough, I needed to destroy that alter that I created. I needed to burn the things that I have collected of ubungoma over the past three years. I need to publicly disassociate myself with the practice as much as privately I am no longer practising.

Though I respect his journey, experiences and position as a former spiritual healer, I do not agree with the overall insinuation that ubungoma goes against God. There is no amount of convincing that anyone can do to get me to bite into this idea. I have expressed it before. I think when one uses lessons and methods learned at ebungomeni (initiation school) to harm, hurt and disproportionately retaliate against people – it is wrong.  

It is also terribly misguided to preach a narrative that seeks to render God and ancestors as mutually exclusive. I have established this argument before, and I am uncomfortable with people who recruit others into falsely believing that it is either God or ancestors. My problem is the overall gaslighting and lack of availability for social support towards abantwana bedlozi (spiritually gifted people) who experience psychophysiological symptoms associated with ingulo yesintu (African spiritual calling).

Many come from homes where God and Christian ideals are put forward and other modalities are shunned. They too are led to believe that God will turn their backs on them and yet dare I say that their calling too comes from God? I digress...  

I do not have an experience with God where he overtly shuns my practises to me, or even through my spiritual guides. If anything, God is my compass in navigating this socio-spiritual landscape. I have said this before.  

The part that shook me to the core about the public declaration of resignation wasn’t the act itself, it was the supporting acts. It shook me to the core where he talks about burning all dlozi (ancestorial) regalia. I can’t imagine turning my back on my bloodline like that. I can’t imagine myself mustering the audacity to that.  

My thinking is rooted in the sacrifices I have already made to be the sangoma I am today. I also had a conversation with my gobela (uMamntambo) about people who don’t just take a break from practising but go as far as to burn regalia. I asked about the implications of that in the event I decided to burn my things and experiencing instant regret.  

She said: “Kutsho ukuthi uyophinda uthwase [you will probably begin your journey afresh.”

It is almost as if you are going to grade one again]. This utterly mortified me. I thought to myself... “consuming goat blood again? Nah count me out.”  

If it isn’t clear by now, I am not a proponent of choosing God over idlozi indefinitely. I think the beautiful thing about believing in God is that when times get tough, even in the sphere of idlozi, God is always there for you to lean on. Always. Pour your heart out to God first before being worsened by the demands of idlozi to a point of no return.  


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