African Witchdoctors

You might be surprised that even in this day and age the influence these people have.

Of course depending where you come from and what ethnic section you belong to, this topic can cause widespread divisions.

I would just like to tell you what I think and some of the experiences that I have had. These may sound a bit far fetched but in many cases I happened to witness this with my own eyes. In other cases these were related to me by people I happened to trust implicitly, some of them exceptionally intelligent too.

Having been brought up by parents who were devout Catholics and in a largely Christian population who had a tendency to scoff at all of this.

I have many personal experiences with these people and one of them happened to work on one of my farms. By and large, in my opinion, it happens to be complete ” mumbo- jumbo ” but then again here are some things which happened.

These people are actually broken up into different types. They can be soothsayers or medicine men and many different things.
In the beginnings when our ancestors first started running farms and using indigenous labourers they were very against this type of thing as they believed it unsettled the labour and consequently they were banned from the farms.

However it is difficult, if not impossible to change people’s long held beliefs and somehow they always found their way onto the farms. Generally over the week-ends and you knew that they were there because the noise of the tribal drums banging was heard for miles around.

Personally I could never see what all the fuss was about as I considered them perfectly harmless and why shouldn’t people enjoy themselves during their time off.

The other argument was that they enticed inter-tribal rivalries and mayhem and after any of their visits it took months for the farm to settle down again. Then there was the way they dressed and this was done purposely to evoke awe and fear in the people. So it was best if they stayed as far away as one could keep them.

Didn’t anybody realise that that was impossible and all it accomplished was to cause resentment and to drive them underground only made the people wonder, what are they afraid of? And if they are afraid, why do they tell us not to be? Therefore there has to be something in it.



These are the traditional African witchdoctors and it is their job to dispense medicine, otherwise known as ” Muti.”I guess it is easy enough to laugh, but what one needs to remember is that in days of yore before the advent of modern medicine. Who did you go and see if you happened to get sick? Sure enough, it was this chap.As it has turned out, modern day Science has proved that there actually were benefits in some of their remedies, so who can knock that?


Throwing of the bones

Then of course you come to the more dangerous type of witchdoctors. These people could play havoc with people’s emotional needs.Some of them were believed to be able to predict the future and were visited in times of emotional stress. At other times they were seen to try and resolve disputes between neighbours, friends and enemies.This was done by the throwing of the bones and to the people this was a chilling and mystical procedure.The bones could be anything, chicken, dog, human, you name it.


Still with us

In today’s world, by and large the witchdoctor no longer dresses as in the past but more or less in Western fashions. However, for ceremonial purposes they will dress in traditional garb.In Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe, they have full access to modern hospitals and it is up to the patient to decide who they want to treat them, either the modern doctor or the traditional one.


Sinister and frightening

This is about the more sinister aspects and what can happen. You will be surprised what a belief can do.It so happens that if you have an enemy and you need to do him harm, a certain type of witchdoctor will cast a spell and then your problems are solved.Somehow, completely beyond most people’s comprehension it is believed and somehow the person knows that a spell has been put on him.My father in law used to play bridge with a brilliant African medical doctor. One night he noticed that the man was not himself and he asked about his health. The doctor replied that he was dying as someone had put a spell on him. Horrified my dad said;
” but a man of your standing and education cannot possibly believe that nonsense?”A few months later the doctor had passed.


It works

Shortly after I had started my farm in South Africa, the wife went into Nelspruit shopping and left the baby with me on the farm. On her way back home on the dirt road she swerved to avoid a speeding bus and overturned her car and ended at the bottom of a steep ditch. Luckily a passing motorist found her and revived her as she had been knocked out and brought her home.Later I got one of my tractor drivers to come and help me tow it back. I remember this because coming from Zimbabwe we had old fashioned cars and my wife’s uncle often used to tease me that his lawn mower was worth more than my car and I was soon to find this was quite true, on claiming Insurance.The next morning I went to retrieve the radio and cassette player as thought I could use it in the next car we bought, only to find it had been stolen. Furious, as I was still emotional about my wife’s experience and what would have happened if she had the baby with her? I also knew it could only have been one of my own staff.I warned them all that if it was not back by the next morning, then there was going to be trouble. Of course it wasn’t, so I sent my truck driver for the witchdoctor, the one who threw bones and could identify the culprit. She arrived in the evening and all the staff were summoned amidst much consternation. The bones were thrown, but horror of horrors she was not certain of the culprit ( wink-wink.)The following morning on starting work all the staff were at the workshop and once I came into sight, they all started clapping and then singing.
Well it’s nice to be such a popular boss isn’t it?
Once they had all gone their merry way to work, I took a stroll down to where my beat up car was, and Lo and behold.Guess what?That’s right, the radio was back.The only sorry thing was that I had to pay the witchdoctor more than the radio was worth, but it’s the principle isn’t it?



On the boundary of my farm there lived the scariest of them all,’ Nyoni’, it just means bird. He was a witchdoctor of legendary proportions. I never had anything but a good relationship with him, no doubt because I allowed him to graze his twenty head of cattle on my farm. Gratis.My next door neighbour was a cattle rancher and had no end of trouble with rustling. He had tried everything to no avail. As a last resort he called in Nyoni, who promptly put his ‘muti’ along all his boundary fences. No sooner had he done this, one night while the rustlers were busy butchering a couple of his cattle a sudden storm brew up. It happens all the time there, they are fast and furious. Anyway, there was a sudden jolt of lightning and this just so happened to be where the rustlers were and ‘ Presto,’ no more cattle rustlers.On my own farm I was busy irrigating my tobacco crop and I was pushed for time as water was short and we were under restrictions. So we were only allowed to irrigate at set times and not when we wanted as was normal. I was all systems go trying to get around watering my crop within the restricted time. I noticed that one of my sprinklers was not working, so went to check it. The 100 metre drag line had been stolen. Raging mad I did some more checking and noticed that all my special seedbed fencing which we had taken down but failed to lock up had also been stolen. It was time for Nyoni.


Nyoni delivers

Once more I had to get all my staff in one place and then wait for the great man’s arrival. Prior to this I had given everyone a good talking to and once again had made no headway.Nyoni arrived in western dress with his only accoutrement being a small deer skin apron tied with some other animal tail and with his bags of ‘Muti’ swinging off this. From the moment he arrived there was a deathly hush.He asked me why I needed him and I told the story. Whereupon he commenced to harangue the staff. When he had finished speaking, he asked me to take him to where the items had been stolen. I could not see the point of this and told him to just throw the bones and tell me who did it?He gave me an incredulous look and then explained to me that he was not that kind of witchdoctor. I asked him, ” what kind of witchdoctor are you?”I am the type of witchdoctor who spreads the ‘ Muti ‘ at the scene of the crime and whoever stole the stuff will die shortly thereafter was what he told me. I was truly horrified by this, but I knew the people well enough to realise that with them this was entirely plausible. No ways could I allow that, so I made a compromise and told my staff that if the items had not been returned to me by ten the next morning, then Nyoni was going to put down the ‘ Muti.’When I went out to work at 6 the next morning, my dragline had been returned and all my sprinklers were working again. I took a stroll to the seedbeds and there was all my fencing neatly rolled up. This time I locked it away.


More Muti

I returned to the family farm and found things more or less the same with all the same old staff. One of these guys I had never been able to put my finger on. I once foolishly asked him to stand in for one of the Foreman who was sick and thereafter it was nigh on impossible to get him not to realise that he was only temporarily a foreman. No, from that day on he was a foreman and he was still at the same old tricks.However his wife was without a shadow of doubt the best worker I ever had. Moreover she was a natural leader and whatever she said went. Even the men were in awe of her. Often all I had to do was get her on side and everything else thereafter went without a hitch. Sadly a few years afterwards she came and told me that she was ” dinawiri.” It sounds like din-a-we-reee, and you must say it fast and it just means tired or perhaps in her case worn out. Not only was she a superlative worker but she had had 15 children. I was so sorry to lose her.Shortly thereafter I kept on noticing fancy cars going past my barns in the evening and heading towards the labourers quarters. I asked my black manager about this and he told me that they were going to get ‘ Muti.’ It turned out that that was from the guy I could never put my finger on and was no doubt why his wife suddenly retired as business was booming.I never did find out what exactly the type of ‘Muti’ he was involved in, but he sure was supplying some wealthy people. Then of course we were all thrown off our farms and I often wonder what happened. No doubt this family was all right.
The reason that I wrote this piece  is because I think that it is very important to know different cultures and to understand that people think differently. It is not about being right or wrong, but sometimes you have to draw a line somewhere and I wonder where you would draw it here?
Postscript and the Aids epidemic.
Now there came a sad time in Zimbabwe where the people because they had lost their old traditional ways and were becoming increasingly impressed with the Western way of life, promiscuity became rife. This led to a general free for all and sleeping around, which sadly led to AIDS.
Once again, one has to understand different cultures. And whereas Western medicine could not cure those people inflicted with this terrible disease. So the people turned to their traditional healers, which was none other than the good old witchdoctor.
As a farmer it was so sad to see. One had a good, robust, healthy man, and a great worker, who suddenly became more and more useless. The weight loss was astonishing to witness. There reached a time when one could spot those who had it from a mile away. Then came the funeral. And if you think it was bad on the farms, then you had no idea how bad it was in the towns?
Once again, one has to understand a culture and a belief. Now by and large, the witchdoctor, had no formal education, or a very rudimentary one. So one understands the cure. Which was?
” If you sleep with a ‘virgin’, you will be cured.”
The problem being of course, that there weren’t any, except, very young children.
Now there is a tradition within this culture which is ‘lobola’. Put simply, when a young man wishes to marry your daughter, a dowry is required. Normally this consisted of supplying some cows (bovines), which, is a measure of a man’s wealth and the more one prided ones daughter the greater the number of cows which were required.
It changed.
Now they needed to sleep with a ‘virgin’ to cure their AIDS. After all, the witchdoctor, told them so.
It is a sadness beyond belief, and it doesn’t end there. Far from it.
You see, the real sadness is, if anything can be worse than selling your child daughter for a cow?
So in reality what happened was. Dad died, then Mum died and there was no one to look after you. Except the culture is, it’s traditional for your extended family to take you over in times like this. Then Uncle died, then Aunty died, and very soon there was no one to look after you, and you are just a young, helpless child. So you resort to begging and you may be an AIDS child yourself. Now the infrastructure in the rural areas cannot support you, so despite being a young child, somehow, you got to the towns.
And there came another problem. The government cannot look after you either and equally, they cannot have hundreds of thousands of children begging on the street. So the Police were called in to round them up and get them out of sight. God knows where?
The moral of the story. Western governments should be very wary of supporting an ideology of which they know next to nothing about whilst denigrating a people and government who do?


About spookmoor

I'm a 61 year old happily married man with three grown up children. I lost all my hearing as an eighteen year old whilst doing National Service and then had a Cochlear Ear Implant twenty years later. I love trying to explain these things to people and bits about my life. I never thought so at the time, but it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Thus one gets Random ramblings from a man who has seen a lot with a touch of humour underlying all.
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31 Responses to WITCHDOCTORS.

  1. Simon Shee says:

    As usual, a very interesting and entertaining read, Spook.
    The sangomas or witch doctors are brilliant psychologists and really understand their clients. As with everything, the knowledge or power can be used for good or evil.

  2. Paul says:

    Enthralling, entertaining and educational.

  3. Very interesting reading, Spook. Thanks for sharing

  4. Iris Papadopoulo says:

    Spook, that was just lovely! I was literally “glued” to the screen! Would you mind if I sent it on to my brother?

  5. spookmoor says:

    Nothing to be confused about bulldog, I’m just having to move my stuff. Hopefully this way it will become mine.

  6. bulldog says:

    This remains a great article I’ve read somewhere before… getting confused on where you have written this first…

  7. Alan McNab says:

    Spook, the African lady that works for us is a Sangoma. She has worked for us for +-25 years now and “got the calling” about 15 years ago. She came and spoke to us at the time and asked if we have any issue with her following this new life as a Sangoma. We actually assisted her with her costs, and I have to say that it has paid off for us.

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