Thando went inside and, after maybe five minutes, she came out looking sad, and didn’t even make eye contact with us as she rushed to leave.

The reason the in-and-out speed was amazing to me was my idea of what happened inside a sangoma’s consulting room. TV and first-hand accounts had taught me that sangomas had bones and would say, “Niyavuma na? Do you agree?” and the visitor had to say, “Siyavuma. We agree,” again and again while the sangoma read the bones. That process looked like it would take a lot longer than five minutes.

It was our turn, finally. MaNgubane was seated on an old and dry cow hide rug on the floor. She sat with her legs straight towards the door but her head faced to the side. She wore a red and black doek on her head and another draped over her shoulders. There were different coloured ropes and beads around her wrists and ankles.

“Sit!” MaNgubane pointed to a bench beside the door without looking at us.

Animal hides dangled from the roof in different spots. There were horns mounted on the wall and lines of soot around those horns. On the floor between us and MaNgubane was a plate of incense, different coloured, lit candles and the skull of a baboon.

“Sbusiso’s Grandma, is there pain?” said MaNgubane without even looking at us.

“Uhm, there’s…” Grandma looked at me, surprised as I was that MaNgubane already knew my name. “Not pain in the physical sense but–”

“It’s a dream,” MaNgubane said curtly.

The side of MaNgubane’s face exposed to us looked emotionless and her voice sounded sure. The only thing I smelled was the cold dank smell of  rocks.

“Yes, it’s a dream,” Grandma said.

“Tell me what you think of this dream,” said MaNgubane.

“I … I think…” Grandma looked up and mouthed, ‘Lord forgive me’.

“Say the name, Sbusiso’s grandma,” MaNgubane commanded.

“Khumalo, maKhumalo. I think she’s the old lady in Sbusiso’s dream. I don’t know why she would want to do this,” Grandma said and then looked away from me. I sensed she was ashamed.

The roof of my mouth suddenly felt dry. I swallowed. Gogo Khumalo’s face fitted easily on the old lady in my dream. But still, even if she’s a witch, is she more powerful than God? I thought.

“You’ve come to the right place. I was waiting for you,” MaNgubane said and turned her head for the first time, but still didn’t look at us.

She stood up and turned her back to us. She took a few steps and reached a black leather briefcase on a small table. She opened the briefcase and took out two newspaper covered bundles the size of soap bars.

“At midnight and three in the morning, the boy should add a pinch of each bundle to two five-litre buckets of plain water. He will spray the mixture from one bucket around the yard, using a grass broom. He will rinse his body outside the house with the mixture from the other bucket. Do this until there’s nothing left in the bundles.”

She still didn’t look at us; she just put the bundles down by the incense and raised up four fingers for us to see. Grandma kneeled down and replaced the bundles with R400. We stood up and left MaNgubane sitting on the floor as she had been when we entered.


Tell us: How might MaNgubane know Sibusiso’s name? And do you think she ‘divined’ any information?