Lungile is fast asleep. For the first time in a long while she is dreaming a pleasant dream. It is a sunny day and she is at the beach. She looks beautiful in a short skirt, shades and a bikini top. She frolics on beach sand while sipping on apple juice. The feeling is so pleasant that she smiles deep in sleep.

“It’s a beautiful day,” she says in her sleep.

Loud bangs disturb her dream. She opens her eyes, sits up in bed and realises that her father is knocking on her door.

“Wake up and get ready. We have a long journey ahead,” says Sibiya.

“Yes, Dad,” says Lungile, startled awake.

Her duvet feels warmer than before, because of the cold breeze now on her as she peels it off. She bathes quickly and gets dressed. Sibiya is already in the lounge, ready to leave. Impatience is evident in his every move. Lungile doesn’t even get a chance to eat breakfast so she grabs an apple and devours it quickly. She’s afraid to ask where they are going.

It’s still dark outside, so dark it is obvious the sun won’t rise anytime soon. The roads are empty. Sibiya arrows the car away from Durban to the South Coast.

I wonder where Baba is taking me, Lungile wonders to herself fearfully.

Sibiya drives on the freeway for more than two hours, then branches off onto a gravel road. The first light of the day appears on the horizon. They continue on the gravel road for another hour. Sibiya suddenly hits the brakes.

“Where are we, Baba?”

“This area is called Emakhuzeni. We are here to see Ndlovu. He is the best sangoma south of Durban. He will help you.”

They had woken up early to come see Ndlovu, but they still find a long queue outside his house. They sit on the bench and wait for their turn. Neither Sibiya nor Lungile utters a word; you’d swear they were strangers.

There are a lot of apprentice sangomas in the enormous yard, and many rondavels. The queue picks up pace. All the people have worry sitting heavy on their faces. Each is carrying the world on their shoulders. At last it is their turn to see Ndlovu.

“Makhosi, I have come to seek help for my daughter,” says Sibiya.

“Come closer, girl, and light this candle.” Ndlovu hands Lungile a white candle.

Lungile strikes a match and light floods into the rondavel.

“Speak to me, my spirits! Vumani Bo!” Ndlovu shouts.

“Siyavuma!” Sibiya answers with Lungile simultaneously.

“The spirits say this child has been bewitched with a bad spirit. These people who bewitched her are jealous of her life because she will be successful and be better than their children. My spirits say this person who bewitched her is a close relative. This bad spirit brings sadness to her heart making her want to commit suicide. You are bewitched! Vumani bo!”

“Siyavuma!” Sibiya and Lungile shout.

“So, Makhosi, how can the child be helped?” says Sibiya.

“That’s easy. I’ll have to steam the child under heavy blankets until the bad spirit is driven out of her. She’ll be fine by the time you leave.”

Sibiya pays Ndlovu.

“Wait outside. Someone will be with you shortly,” says Ndlovu.

Two female apprentice sangomas fetch Lungile and take her to another rondavel. Sibiya follows and waits outside.

The apprentices make a fire and on it a large pot cooks tree bark. The liquid boils red like blood. The pot is taken off of the fire and placed on the floor. Lungile is getting more nervous as she watches the whole process.

“Come and kneel near the pot,” says one apprentice sangoma.

Lungile comes closer.

“No, child. You have to take off all your clothes first,” says the other apprentice sangoma.

Lungile does as told. She kneels close to the pot. A blanket covers her as she inhales the steam and coughs. The blanket covers her whole body. Large rocks are placed on the edges so that Lungile cannot escape from beneath it. She tries to break free from the heat of the steam, but the rocks keep her hostage under the blanket. The steam hits her straight in her face. She is so hot it feels like her skin is peeling off.

“Get me out! Get me out! I’m burning!” Lungile screams.

She screams until her voice breaks but the apprentice sangomas don’t budge. They are following Ndlovu’s instructions exactly, so they only remove the rocks after 30 minutes. By that time Lungile is weak. She staggers to her feet but crumples to the floor.

A great commotion ensues; the apprentice sangomas run out to fetch Ndlovu. Sibiya sees the commotion and follows Ndlovu into the rondavel. He is shocked when he sees Lungile collapsed on the floor.

But he reassures them: “Don’t worry. Just put her in the car and take her home. The ritual has worked. The bad spirit is out of her now. She just fainted because it takes a lot out of a person when the spirit comes out. She’ll be fine.”

The apprentice sangomas dress Lungile. Sibiya carries her to the car. He takes a look at his daughter sleeping, or passed out, in the backseat. She looks to be at peace, at least. Lungile is asleep for hours as Sibiya drives back home.

Anxiety creeps in as he enters his house, carrying her, because his daughter is still asleep.


Tell us: Have you ever experienced a ritual like this? What was it like? Did it help you?