Photo: Matthew Jordaan

KwaZulu-Natal criminals, fearful of incarceration and in some instances death in shootouts with police, are turning to traditional healers in KwaZulu-Natal for protection - and “powers” to execute their crimes.

Some sangomas are cashing in on the trend, sometimes earning tens of thousands of rands at a time. They have revealed some of the chilling details of what criminals say they plan to do.

Police have however warned that any healers who aided in the commission of a crime would be dealt with harshly. And the Traditional Healers’ Association of South Africa, has criticised such practices, calling them illegal.

Getting “protection” is thought to have gained popularity in the early 1990s, when it was used to win court battles. Now local sangomas have told the Daily News that the custom was now the norm.

Two weeks ago in Cato Ridge, the province’s most-wanted criminal, Thulani Merciful “Ntshebe” Ngema, 34, and two other men were shot dead in a gun battle with police.

The men had just left a sangoma after undergoing a ritual, and were on their way to commit a robbery, police said.

Police had found bottles of muti and other unidentified items in their vehicle.

Speaking to the Daily News this week, Hammarsdale-based sangoma, Nqobo Shange, 28, said he had treated a number of criminals, with some paying up to R30 000 at a time.

“It’s hard at first but it’s something so common now that you become used to it. You have to remove your personal feelings and do what you have to do; it’s a job.

“It’s also extremely tough when you know the intended victim. Sometimes I feel bad afterwards because I had a hand in it, but I can’t turn anyone away. I am providing a service.”

Shange said it was difficult to distinguish between criminals and ordinary clients.

“Some are a bit vague. They say they have a journey to take and they may encounter danger. Others might say they are going to kill that person or steal from here and they need something to make them invincible.

“At that point they have told me too much and it is in my best interests to co-operate. I know too much (about the crime) and there is no telling what they might do.”

Although the rituals vary, a small incision is made at the top of the patient’s head and muti is inserted into the cut. Shange said he could not reveal what was used to make the concoction.

In some cases, a special pumpkin is also prepared for the client. The remainder of the muti used on the person’s body is emptied into the vegetable through a small opening at the top and the “lid” is replaced.

After leaving the healer, criminals look to the pumpkin for guidance on how best to execute the crime or where to go and believe that the vegetable “speaks” to them.

Accessories, such as jewellery (ring, chain or bracelet), a red or green woollen string (worn on the hand or waist), a small bottle on a string worn around the neck or a band for the upper arm are given to clients to keep them safe.

An Umlazi sangoma, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he treated hundreds of criminals between 2004 and 2009, until he was warned by his ancestors to use his powers for good.

He had charged about R8 000 for protection during a housebreaking, R15 000 for hijacking and up to R100 000 for robberies and cash-in-transit heists.

In some cases, robbers leave a deposit and return after the crime is committed to give the sangoma a share of the takings.

“It is not a good thing to help criminals because they are engaging in crime. In the process, innocent people lose their lives,” he said.

“When criminals consult traditional healers they want to protect themselves from police, but sadly, when they execute those crimes, they end up hurting and killing innocent people.”

The healer - who has been practising for 29 years - said criminals often got caught because they did not follow the rules of the ritual as outlined by the sangoma.

The president of the Traditional Healers’ Association of South Africa, Sazi Mhlongo, criticised illegal practices and said members of the association were not allowed to deal with criminals and were bound by the country’s laws.

“I wouldn’t say he (Ngema) went to a sangoma to get protection as a criminal. I don’t think a sensible sangoma would do that.

“We get people who claim to be healers, particularly in Durban, when they are not. Some are not from this country, but they pretend to be locals.”

Mhlongo said the number of fake sangomas had risen as a result of unemployment and the lure of easy money.

Fraudsters were making a mockery of traditional healing, turning it into a lucrative business, he said.

“An authentic healer would never charge those amounts. To be a sangoma does not mean you have to become a millionaire.

“This is a calling from our ancestors.” - Daily News