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Inside the life of Spesh the sangoma

by Lesotho Times
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Senate Lerotholi

RETHABILE ‘Spesh’ Mapeshoane could easily pass for one of the ordinary young and energetic men of Maseru who are always in a hurry to make the next buck.

He has the demeanor, a thin frame and light skin. As the young and woke would say, he is a “looker” or head turner too.

But a closer look would reveal a different perspective; that of his spiritual calling as a sangoma.

But this one is not the usual traditional healer, all chubby, scruffy and even outright dirty. Spesh can compete with any other suitor in a bar, restaurant or pub in getting the attention of sleek ladies.

But he is a sangoma.

During a recent trip to his Ha-Seoli home in Maseru, Spesh told the Lesotho Times that the days of associating traditional healers with all bad things belonged to the bygones.

And he is a testimony.

In his shrine, a small, dingy looking room facing westwards and perched in the periphery of his homestead, are different assortments of herbs neatly packed in all manner of coffee jars. They are arranged impeccably on the wall. Yet a good section of the floor tells a different story. It resembles a warzone. In fact, one would be mistaken to think they are stepping on bomb debris.

“I am sorry for the chaos that is on the floor here,” he says coyly, adding: “I recently held an event and I have not had the time to clean up”.

In the shrine, he sits on a chair cross-legged with a maroon, white and black cloth wrapped around his tiny legs. Hanging on his neck are all sorts of beads. This is the neater side of the room with a maroon carpet covering the dusty floor. In front of him is a paraffin stove with a boiling water kettle to warm up the room. Close to it is a candle and a clay plate with burning incense.

And he exudes some innocence. That kind of innocent which shares traits with absurdity or downright stupidity for anyone of Christian or some other religions. For instance, that he is both a sangoma and a Christian. Ludicrous.

But that is the aesthetic of faith. Faith and logic do not mix. Just like oil and water, they are foreign to each other. The more one tries to understand from the vantage point of an outsider, the more believers and practitioners appear to be nothing but cartoon characters who shall not be taken seriously. This does not mean there are no inherent truths.

And that is the danger.

For instance, when Spesh decided to get initiated into becoming a sangoma in 2019, he was deceived by one self-styled healer who dragged him to a “sacred pool” in Mohale’s Hoek. The purported initiation not only flopped but almost ended disastrously, he says.

“I have a Ndau spirit which originates in Zimbabwe and Mozambique. This is the spirit of people who were killed and thrown into the Zambezi River during a tribal war. Their spirits, which reside in the water, are the ones that are guiding me now. But when I decided to get initiated, I met this man from Mohale’s Hoek who had not finished his own initiation and he lied to me that he was a sangoma and he would initiate me.

“After paying him what he demanded, he took me to a pool which he said he operated from but when I was in the water with another initiate, we sensed that there was something wrong and we quickly ran out. He also scurried shortly afterwards because the spirits were against his deeds. I think I could have died if I did not leave that pool.”

We bombard him with questions. Are traditional healers evil? What is driving many young people, and the so-called slay queens, into becoming or claiming that they are traditional healers? These and many more.

“Just as there are fake prophets and fake politicians, there are also fake sangomas. Some can claim to initiate you, just like the man who dragged me to Mohale’s Hoek, but all they will do is to use your spirit through dark powers for their own benefit. Some, after being initiated, start showing signs of mental illness when instead they would have been bewitched. Others even die afterwards. So, it is always advisable for one to pray first before embarking onto the journey.

“In the case of slay queens and other young people, I don’t think they are claiming to be sangomas. Many people are indeed accepting the spiritual callings and becoming sangomas these days. There is no specific type of people who become sangomas. However, some are then suspected to be fake because they now dress better than sangomas of the old. The spirit is not in the clothes.”

This also informs his lifestyle. On weekends, one can hardly believe that Spesh is a sangoma if they bump into him in one of the Maseru bars and restaurants.

“I love clubbing. Sometimes, I end up consulting for some people who would be struggling with their spiritual callings or other issues. But I am a young man and I love what other young people love. It doesn’t affect my spirituality.

“Spirituality should not be limited by human thinking. If there are scriptures in the Bible that say we shouldn’t worship the dead, I don’t see why we are worshiping Jesus because he is also dead,” he says with innocence.

He adds: “Ancestral belief is misunderstood by many people because of lack of spiritual wisdom. Spirituality is broad, and religion is just one aspect of it.”

Any Christian would know that Jesus is not dead. The Biblical narrative is that Jesus died and rose from the dead and ascended into heaven as recorded in the holy book (Luke 24 vs 51).

But that is a story for another day.

After his failed initiation in Mohale’s Hoek, Spesh later went to Maputsoe where he was finally initiated and given a new name, Mkhulu Mhlophe.

“Mhlope means light and spiritually, I bring light into the lives of people through healing different ailments. I also counsel people with different social and spiritual problems.”

Born 32 years ago, Spesh grew up in a family of devout Christians. And now his mother and sister too are sangomas.

“When I was growing up, as a Christian, nothing ever worked out for me. Everything that I tried did not work. I remember my grandfather, who had been ill for some time and was nagging me to pray for him. For some time, I refused but the day I did, that is the day he died.

“I started making sense of all these occurrences when my girlfriend fell ill, and I prayed for her. After that, she said she was seeing images of old people on my chest. That is when I understood that I had an ancestral calling.

“When one has an ancestral like mine, it is complex. If you are taken to doctors you’d be diagnosed of conditions like depression or anxiety. This because western medicines and interventions cannot pick that one has a Ndau spirit,” he says.

Among others, some of the signs for people with the Ndau spirit include dreaming of whites, Indians or very dark foreign people. One can even dream of themselves speaking a foreign language, he says.

“Some dream of clear water, water animals, snakes that are usually big, but one would not be scared of their presence. They may even dream of spiritual cloths like njeti and palo or any other cloths that are worn by people outside their own culture. Some dream of themselves in water and when they wake up, their bodies would be so cold that they would be feeling as if they have been in water.”

Physical signs include female reproductive system problems.

While Spesh is happy serving his ancestors, he accedes he lost friends when he honoured the call.

A tad assertive, but not brutish, Spesh is a likeable and easy on the eye lad. He has accepted that his is a cold life where he is sequestrated from the rest of his peers except those in pedantic spiritual troubles. But he is happy.

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