Govern the country? That is one thing my ancestors cannot do

African spirituality is on the rise thanks to government failures and, by extension, the ruling party,

writes Sihle Khumalo Khumalo’s latest book is ‘Milk the Beloved Country’.



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Insight | People

Every fifth black African I come across is either a traditional healer or becoming one. Traditional healers, broadly speaking, can be separated into two groups: izangoma and izinyanga. Isangoma (singular) is someone who is able to connect with ancestors and diagnose what your problems are. Inyanga (singular) is someone who knows about imithi and thus is able to give you umuthi that will help you with some or all the challenges you might be facing. There are those traditional healers who offer a one-stop shop service: they diagnose you and then offer you umuthi. In recent times, there has been an exponential growth in African spirituality. More black Africans are consulting izangoma and izinyanga. Of course, this is great because, lest we forget, as part of the colonisation project, the indigenous people were converted by hook and by crook (read by force and through manipulation) to drop their belief system and instead, among other things, find “the way, the truth and life”. Therefore, it has to be celebrated that some among us are going back to our roots because — given the ongoing battles we fight — it is easier to be defeated and to lose hope if you do not have a belief system that gives you a foundation and a philosophy that will sustain you when the going gets tough. This sudden rise of African spirituality can also be attributed to socioeconomic factors. Unless you have been living under a rock (or are in denial), you will know that the face of poverty in South Africa, from a race perspective, is a black African and, from a gender perspective, a woman. Therefore, the poverty poster in South Africa is that of a black African woman. It becomes difficult for a black person in this day and age to blame apartheid because, superficially, it no longer exists. The structural issues — thanks to centuries of colonisation — remain intact. That anyone and everyone could vote since 1994 has not been able to effectively and efficiently deal with the systemic matters. The economy, in real terms, has not been growing for years. About a third of South Africans are unemployed and, if one considers the broader definition of unemployment, which includes those who are discouraged from seeking work, the unemployment rate is close to 50%. Just over half the population, more than 30-million people, according to the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group, are living below the upperbound poverty line of R1,417 a month. And it gets worse — about a quarter of South Africans live below the food poverty line of R663 a month. That explains why about 20million South Africans, about a third of the population, go to bed hungry. Naturally, we have to blame something. In this case, maybe it is the company of the people I keep. Ancestors have been getting a bad rap. If it’s not ancestors who are not playing their part, it is other black people who are bewitching you. You might be poor and living below the poverty line, yet you are being bewitched by other poor people who are jealous of your progress and/or your potential success. It is these bewitchers standing between you and the middle-class lifestyle. As a practical person, I have come to one conclusion: the rise of African spirituality is thanks to, among other things, the failures of the government and, by extension, the ruling party. African spirituality is also being used by fake traditional healers who peddle lies and use tricks to exploit the poor and the vulnerable. The desperate men and women are made to take their last cents, or even take loans, to buy and slaughter chickens, sheep, goats and cattle. This is done supposedly to appease and, for a lack of a better word, “awaken” the ancestors with the hope that after the slaughter they will intervene at a supernatural level. Before you know it, you will be living a soft life like those black, politically connected individuals who signed BEE deals and, despite not selling any product or offering any service, are now multimillionaires, even billionaires. Except that after spending all the money in traditional ceremonies, the poor end up poorer. Don’t get me wrong. I believe in ancestors and African spirituality. However, this way of life has been hijacked by fraudsters, schemers and liars. The same could be said of some preachers and pastors who prey — while pretending to pray — for the poor and destitute. If only the economy was growing in real terms to absorb graduates who are produced by their thousands year after year. If only we, as a country, were equitably sharing our nation’s wealth. If only entrepreneurs got real help from the government. If only invoices were processed in time so entrepreneurs didn’t have to spend weeks, sometimes months, chasing invoices to pay their employees who are drowning in debt. If only someone listened when energy experts warned the government that, in future, energy demand will surpass supply. If only resources were spent on infrastructure (roads, schools, hospitals, eradicating pit toilets, and so on) and implementation of world-class systems, instead of on fighter jets, submarines and so on. But alas... I have no crystal ball but I can say this with certainty: more chickens, sheep, goats and cattle will be slaughtered this winter (when most traditional ceremonies are done). During summer, more people will drown while praying in raging rivers. And, after all that, we will still blame the ANCestors instead of the real culprits. I’m not sure about your ancestors, but mine were never expected to build new power stations, nor were they expected to maintain the existing ones. My ancestors were never expected to appoint competent people into boards and executive committees of the state-owned enterprises. Nor were they expected to create an environment conducive to increased and sustained foreign direct investment. I am all for the rise of African spirituality but, as a pragmatic person, I accept that there are certain things my ancestors cannot do. One of those is to optimally govern the country.