FAITH: Our resident sceptic was sent forth to get his fortune told. He came back a changed man, slightly more convinced by the idea of supernatural forecasting. Here is what the sangomas, a numerologist and the astrologers said to him.
'Some of your best friends are white'
Accuracy: . . . . -
Of the three seers I have an appointment with, it’s the sangoma I’m most nervous to meet. Hey, I’m black. So I take my mother along for moral support and go and see MaNdlovu, a sangoma who came recommended and is practising in Jeppe.
She is only prepared to consult and will not allow any photography or interview of any kind. She isn’t concerned with media exposure. I’m thinking this throws a spanner in the works for my story.
The old lady, wearing a beaded headpiece draped across her face and holding one of those tails sangomas seem to use to swipe flies away with, unsettles me quite a bit. I button my lip and take my shoes off.
The consultation, held in a small and stuffy room in one of those old semi-detached homes, begins with MaNdlovu hailing the ancestors from both sides of my family using my clan names. She coughs and splutters a few times before telling me that the ancestors can see me, “the writer who has forged a brotherhood with people from outside his race”.
I blink twice. This startles me, I have not met this woman before, nor has my mother, and yet she knows that some of my closest friends aren’t black. The surprises keep coming.
“Your ancestors are happy to see you, but they are quarrelling over you.” I don’t get this, but the pretty scary sangoma and my mother assure me it’s a good thing. It’s the battle between the Sithebes and the Langas of my surnames.
MaNdlovu tells me to be wary of some of the people I spend a lot of my days with and also to take care of my stomach. The information seems to come out randomly, in scraps, and my mother and I are required to say we agree the whole time.
In a gravelly voice, she says: “You don’t sleep well because your brain never rests. Your thoughts are intense and filled with ideas.” She then asks if the feeling of someone following me is still present when I walk in the streets. I do this quite a bit, walk alone in the city. How could she know this?
MaNdlovu then speaks to my mother about a disgruntled neighbour who perhaps wishes our family ill.
“Behind your house, the granny doesn’t like you and you may know why,” she croaks.
My mother nods solemnly, but doesn’t disclose what this is all about as we leave the small room smelling of imphepho (a fragrant plant burnt as a ritual incense).
Now, because MaNdlovu wouldn’t agree to an interview, I still need to speak openly and honestly to a practising sangoma about this gift. I head to Dawn Park in Boksburg to meet Mphumi Khumalo, a young sangoma who tells me straight up: “If I told you some of the things I have seen, you would think I was crazy. Beings that don’t seem to be of this world attached to people feeding on their energy.”
A shudder rolls through the room as Khumalo, now speaking slightly above a whisper, her voice quivering slightly, says: “This is the side that you may not like, but, believe me, it is very real.”
I immediately steer the witchcraft conversation towards what MaNdlovu told me about the neighbour who is a hater.
“Hexes and curses, yes indeed. If there is good, there is bad. The bad is always around looking to prey on your weaknesses. Those things feed on that.”
She seems to pick up my thoughts.
If you give a curse power, it will grow, she says.
Khumalo first discovered her gift when she was five years old. Her gran would set out tea for her visitors, but she would skip a few of the guests.
“I didn’t know why she did that, so I would let them sit with me at my small table and have some of my imaginary tea.”
The unserved guests unseen by her gran were not cartoon characters or magical friends; they were her great grandparents, says the sangoma.
Khumalo tells me that 80% of her clients are white. I ask her if speaking to a white person’s ancestors is the same as with a black person.
“It’s the same process,” she replies. “I have Russian friends, Portuguese, German; this works beyond language. You get what they mean and the energy flows.”
To this vibrant traditional healer, there is no right or wrong approach to seeing beyond the earthly.
“I once saw an Egyptian sand reader tell a whole life using a grain of sand. It works because we’re all tapping into the same energy.”
'There will be a child'
Accuracy: . . . . .
Imeet Sandy Smith at her home office in Randburg. Dressed in black flowing garments, the upbeat but mysterious numerologist invites me in and we chat a bit about her past. She has a background in the arts, working for the likes of the legendary Miriam Makeba and Caiphus Semenya as a tour manager.
Numerology, says Wikipedia, is “any belief in the divine or mystical relationship between a number and one or more coinciding events”. Your name, for example, contains letters, which are each assigned a number. Taken together, you can reduce these mathematically to a single numerical representation.
We begin the consultation with my personal information. My name and surname as it appears on my birth certificate as well as, in my case, how I would want it to be should I change it – which I’m thinking of doing.
“I’ll tell you just now if that’s a good idea,” she says with certainty in her voice.
She jots down my date of birth and the room falls silent – nothing but the sound of Smith scratching away with her pen, somehow working these numbers out.
My first name is a nine, she finally announces. This is how I gain and impart knowledge and wisdom. “Phumlani is pretty cool; it’s meditative, almost Buddhist. Your Sithebe is a five and your life path is a five, which means academic, but lazy. These figures are normally very diplomatic and well-mannered.”
She then tells me not to change my surname, but if I want to release a book, I should use my mother’s name, Langa. She is also adamant that I should go into photography and film, and that I would excel at property. These are things I think of, although the property aspect not so much.
This all happened in just the first five minutes, and all she did was write a few details about me on a piece of paper and then scratch these off and somehow calculate them into numbers that said things about me that were right on the money.
She points to a six on the page and says: “You have a proclivity for older women, yes?”
I swallow. Look, I don’t want to just come out and admit this undeniable truth to Sandy, so instead I stammer a bit like a good bloke.
She carries on: “Not just older, but you’re drawn to grounded women. If you don’t connect, you don’t bother.” No flies on the numerologist.
She reiterates what I will be told later by an astrologer: “You’re tactile, you like to feel things. For instance, if you go shopping, the material is important and you’re also not impartial to high-quality brands.”
Sandy, who interestingly enough has a predominantly black client list, stares at the numbers and something mysterious enters her voice. She takes breaks before speaking, like she’s drawing in energy from the universe.
“You have interesting friends, people you have almost turned into family. They will be with you till the end.”
She doesn’t ask if it’s true, she says it is. I mean, what stranger would know things like the fact that I write in cursive?
“Your mind races before you go to sleep,” Smith says. My ears prick up at this as MaNdlovu had said the same thing. “These ideas racing around your mind can also make you anxious, but people can’t tell very easily.”
She drops a little motivation in by advising that I use the word ‘but’ less, and put an end to procrastinating. She scratches two numbers off the sheet and says I have diabetes in my family and that I should be careful of that. Again, accurate.
She then drops a familiar bombshell: “There are also people around you who are not being honest with you.”
This has me a bit shook now because I’m hearing this for a second time. I can only hope those people get to read this.
She then asks me if I have children. I do not. “Next year by your birthday, there will be a child ... get ready.”
I nearly fall off my chair. She has been right about so many things, but I leave her hoping that last bit isn’t true. If you see my byline attached to an article about what to do when you’re an expecting dad, you’ll have all the proof you need.
'You love sex and food'
Accuracy: . . . - -
I arrive at the garden cottage that Laurie Naughtin uses as her school. One of her students is finishing a lesson. A tall woman with long, wispy grey hair, Naughtin seems to light up the moment she begins to talk about astrology, the “study of the movements and relative positions of celestial objects” such as stars and moons.
She and the student, Katlego Tshipamba, are passionate about the hidden powers of the cosmos and they whip out an array of charts that they use to plot out people’s fates. Hell, there are even charts on Adolf Hitler and President Cyril Ramaphosa on the table. (Ramaphosa’s reign will be a beautiful one, but not one without some questionable elements.)
Tshipamba explains the fascination: “When you are born, there is a blueprint. The cliché that it’s written in the stars is true.”
I ask how she relates her faith to that of sangomas. “I’m very much into traditional healing and the two overlap each other. There are strong links between religion and astrology.”
Naughtin says the discipline of astrology started during the Mayan and Persian empires, when early astrologers began to take an interest in seasonal weather patterns, and how the moon and sun would affect the environment and people’s personalities.
“Things like wishing someone many happy returns on their birthday refers to your sun reaching the same position it was at on your birthday. Every 12 years, your Jupiter returns, a planet that represents intellect. This is when bar and bat mitzvahs [in the Jewish faith] are held. The age of 12 is also when one would get confirmed at church. Think of the moon – every 28 days, it goes through a cycle. A woman’s cycle is the same length.”
Tshipamba adds that hunters don’t dehorn an animal on a full moon because it will bleed more. Certain farmers will plant when the moon is new and harvest when it’s waning.
Naughtin has been doing this for 22 years. She sends a client a form that requests information around certain life events – graduation, a marriage, a death.
“I get your chart and marry all the life events till they fit right until the moment you were born.”
It’s more academic than magical, but, still, the stars are miles away and some are dead.
“I won’t sit there and work out your day of death or anything like that. It’s better if you have a problem and you come to me. Some say they come just out of curiosity, that is until the problem arises on the chart.”
She decides to do my birth chart and, after calling my mother and finding out what time I was born, things take a weird turn.
Out of nowhere, Naughtin lists a bunch of attributes that seem to fit me, kind of.
“You’re a tactile person who loves sex and food. You love to serve people.”
Her finger hops from one scribble on the page to another. “You shine when you work with people, but these are all attributes of a Taurus. But we can’t all be the same kind of Taurus and, luckily, there are many kinds.”
She grabs another chart and slides her finger along to a block. “You’re also a Cancer. Cancer is ruled by the moon, so now I’m curious about that. The moon represents the needs we have.”
Her hand whips across the chart again, and she proclaims: “You need relationships; you need people as they help take you out of a dark place.”
This was all on the side of the chart that represents the night I was born. The other side of that is the morning of my first day. On this side, I have Scorpio.
“This is your rising sun,” she says. “People would think, ‘wow you’re a Taurus and a Cancer, so why aren’t you fat?’” I suck in my stomach and smile.
“This is the Scorpio in you, which is ruled by Mars. These people are active and quite intense. You’re a transformer, you dig deep to spark change.”
She mentions that I have a fascination for life, and a need to retreat to a place of mediation and peace to do my work effectively.
Besides the intricate-looking charts and limited time, there is some truth to this, but all she does is map out a trajectory that doesn’t seem to be set in stone – provided you are cautioned about the dangers along your path.
There are several common threads that run through the three consultations, in particular between the sangoma and the numerologist. They all spoke of a universal energy and how to seek a stable state of mind. They both also cautioned against some of the people close to me. I’m trying not to look at my friends funny nowadays.
However, I remain the master of my universe and the author of my fate. My destiny is not much clearer to me, but my sense of place and purpose in the world is. Coming from the biggest hater you know, this is a stellar recommendation.