This was by far one of the most interesting interviews I have aver done.
I know it's (super) long, but it's very interesting if you have the time to read it.
Photograph by Morne van Zyl
A: I want to start at the beginning. When you were a child, what did you think you wanted to do when you grew up?
CS: One memory I have is after seeing Goldie Hawn in
A: Yes, but it’s very different though.
CS: [laughs] Yes it is
A: And did you grow up in this [Constantia] area, or where are you originally from?
CS: I grew up in Johannesburg. I lived with my aunt and uncle, as my mom passed away when I was very young, so they effectively brought us up. We had a very interesting childhood. My uncle was running the BBC in South Africa, and we had a very progressive view of living in Apartheid. So, it was very dynamic, and I feel very blessed to have had that exposure from both sides of the political spectrum.
A: For sure, so what brought you to Constantia? Did you move here when you got married?
CS: Yes, my husband’s work brought us to the Cape.
A: Can you tell me more what you life was like before you got the calling?
CS: In a nutshell, I think that I have always had a healing ability, the first recollection I have is from when I was very small, having vivid dreams, which is highly pertinent to the sangoma world. I asked everyone in the school if I could tell them my dreams in the mornings, and everyone would say ‘no, please don’t!’ [laughs] because they would go on forever.
CS: The second thing was, that often people would comment on how warm my hands were, and later I was to discover that I did have a gift of healing with my hands. So, I went further with that into Reiki, which is a form of healing with hands. I’ve always had a fascination with herbs.
A: So, did you get a calling?
A: Because I’ve heard a lot about the types of callings that sangoma’s get, that they are quite hectic, and a lot of symptoms come with it. Did you experience that?
CS: Ja, I was just about to say, I dabbled in this and that for a little while and then I thought there was still a lot that needed answering. I also kept getting ill in a specific way, and that illness wasn’t always necessarily diagnosable by doctors.
A: What kind of illness was it?
CS: It was always an illness around the liver, whether it was hepatitis or tic bite fever, or whatever, whatever – a lot of feverish illnesses. But mostly for me, there was an understanding that I had yet more to learn. There were the vivid dreams, and that I carried an illness my father also had.
A: Yes, I was going to ask you if there was any history of another family member?
CS: Yes, yes, and that came in many different forms, quite personal, but that was largely where the calling came from. I was later to discover what I thought was a depression, or a form of madness, actually, when I had a dream that repeated itself a number of times, when that dream finally came to me, the illness started to disappear.
A: Oh wow, that must have been quite a relief.
CS: Ja, when I accepted my calling, when beads were put on me by sangoma, I literally did feel like everything was going to be okay, and even though the struggle wasn’t over yet, for the first time I felt supported, in a greater sense than just family support.
CS: But my dream was very significant and I would like to share it with you. I dreamt about a man I hadn’t seen before, and I didn’t know at that time he was known as the ancient keeper of the story of the people of Africa. He appeared to me three times. He had these tiny eyes and huge glasses, like magnifying glasses and he was quite a short, squat man, a strange looking human being. He said to me ‘you need to get ready, because we need your medicine’.
A: Okay, what did you think?
CS: I didn’t know what it meant, maybe I had to meditate more, and then I thought, well let me go and see a sangoma, I am a white south African, why have I not tapped into this before? And I think it was partly because of a lack of exposure – it’s not really a common thing for white people to do. It is something that is regarded with a lot of fear and mystery. So I did some research and I went to see a white sangoma in Houtbay, who told me I was being called. I decided I needed to find this man in my dreams and I endedup in a lecture and when they introduced ‘Kreede Motchwa’ and he came onto the stage, I knew it was the same man.
A: Wow, that’s incredible.
CS: It was mind-blowing. Unfortunately couldn’t organise to train with him, so I went back to the ‘dream-board’. I then dreamt about bushman on Blouberg beach and I said to my husband ‘okay, you have put up with all my madness, give me one last thing – I am going to drive to Blouberg beach and see if I am going to follow this dream, then this guy better be there’.
CS: So I went and waited about an hour and a half while the sun rose, and just as started thinking I had lost the plot, I saw a couple cars arriving and a few sangoma’s stepped out and started walking towards me, and I saw in the middle of them was this bushman I had dreamt of.
CS: And I thought, ‘thank-you I am not going mad, this is real’. And he walked up to me and said ‘where have you been? I have been waiting three years for you! What has taken you so long?’ [Laughs]
A: [Laughs] That’s amazing.
CS: So I proceeded to work with him for three years.
A: So this is all before you went to the Transkei to complete your formal rituals and ceremonies?
CS: Yes, yes. I trained with him and worked for five years after that helping people cleanse their houses, doing protections and administering medicinal herbs. Then came more dreams, and I realised I had to train further. I went on a yoga workshop and tour in the Transkei, even though it I didn’t think it would be possible with the kiddies, but off I went.
CS: When I was there I just had the most unbelievable sensation and knowing that I was going to spend a long time there, going to and from.
A: So you went back and forth regularly?
CS: I realised I would come back again and I had dreams that confirmed that I would train further there. A local sangoma came to me and said they could see I had done some training but that it was not complete. There are a few steps that needed to be put in place.
CS: So, I went back to Cape Town and spoke to the family about it. I then spent two years training in the Amapondo tradition, from scratch. It was quite a humbling process.
A: Is it quite a costly process?
CS: Yes, a lot of people take longer to train because of financial constraints. The first initiation process requires you offer three chickens to the ancestors, there are red spirits, whit spirits and drinks for everyone and all the food for the ceremony and you never know how many people there will be and everyone has to receive a plate of food, so that could cost between R3 000 and R10 000, just for initiation.
A: That is quite a lot. I know you went through a number of rituals and ceremonies. You had a cow for one, did you go pick the cow yourself, or was it given to you?
CS: Let me explain the process, you stay in the white phase, initial phase, until you have a dream about your goat. So the ancestors are choosing a goat for you to find, to offer to them. What I am sitting on now is my goat’s skin. So you move from the white phase into the red phase, and then you have to find your goat. You go from hut to hut and go through the whole traditional way of greeting, which could take up to three hours before you ask them, ‘have you seen a black and white goat by any chance?’.
A: It sounds like quite a lengthy process.
CS: Once that is complete, you start to look for the dreams of the ancestor’s cow.
A: Okay, and then is it the same process again of finding the cow?
CS: Yes, it took three weeks. But it’s a great blessing as well for the people in the huts you go to.
A: Once you found the cow, how much time is there before the sacrificial ceremony? Do you get attached to the cow?
CS: It’s so individual. There is no time really there and it’s not about the time. We had to negotiate with the owner’s family for about two and a half weeks after we found the cow, before he accepted our offer of money. And that was a week before my ceremony. I was already in my isolation phase, you go into isolation before the ceremony.
A: Where you have no contact with family or friends?
CS: Yes, but my son was my assistant, so he would take me out covered in a blanket to go have a widdle and help with various things, because I had to stay inside my beehive hut for a week.
A: Wow, that must have been a very different and humbling experience?
CS: I could hear the celebratory cried of the people and the children when the cow was being lead to the kraal. There was a great lifting of energy.
A: You were saying earlier that it’s not very common for white people to go through this process. When you were in the Transkei what was the reaction from the local people? Were they friendly, was it difficult?
CS: Whilst I was there, it was so overwhelmingly beautiful. I have never felt more welcomed or celebrated. I suppose coming from the apartheid regime to where we are now, black people were penalised for being who they are, to now having white people coming there to celebrate in their tradition and to humble themselves to their ways, it’s a huge cultural bridge.
CS: It was so moving and humbling, and I know that there are so many houses in the Transkei that I could walk up to, day or night, and they would welcome me in to their home. That’s a huge gift. But the reaction of the whitey’s back here in Constantia, as you can imagine, has been completely different.
A: What was your family’s first reaction?
CS: My immediate family were very happy for me.
A: Because you had found this relief and acknowledgement of what you had to do?
CS: Yes, my husband thinks it’s wonderful. I was always a very earthy person. My children were happy because I was happy.
A: And the response from your neighbours?
CS: Well, before I get to that, my extended family had various reactions. My housekeeper was terrified, she is a Christian, black South African woman. She begged me not to do this, and obviously she has been indoctrinated in her own church in that way, hearing about the horrible things that go on. They are an issue, they are real, and yet there is so much more to the traditional sangoma way of life. My uncle said it was another one of my fads, that I would get over, which I didn’t, and he now stands very proud over me.
A: It sounds like there is a lot of family support, which I don’t think many people would be as lucky to have that.
CS: My father, who I feel this calling came from this side of the family, I definitely feel his support.
A: When you have the dreams and the ancestors speak to you, are they African ancestors, or your family ancestors from your father’s line?
CS: Definitely. Ancestors is a very broad concept, and people immediately think of it as a family-line, and they certainly are very important, but I also believe we have ancestors that work with us from other families. My teachers’ ancestors will be looking after me. All the beings, whether they are guides, or angels, that come form the spiritual realm, are our ancestors.
A: I understand.
CS: Back to the reactions from the neighbours and the people around town, the black people would greet me traditionally with great celebration and jubilant conversation. Where as the white… [pauses] look, [pauses]. You don’t often see a white woman walking down the road with chicken feathers in her hair and sticks in her hand. Some would stop to ask, ‘Can I ask what on earth are you doing?’
CS: Or others would just stop and stare and pretend they are looking and not looking. Children would stare… [pause] and be like ‘what are you, what are you?’ [Laughs].
A: [Laughs] Children are very curious. Have your children’s friends ever said anything?
CS: Absolutely. Standing in the SAX parking lot was quite a courageous and adventurous time because there the truth is told in the reaction of various people. Some were brave enough to ask, and we had lovely conversations. Some people, through lack of understanding look on in shock and horror.
A: Wow, I can imagine it’s been very interesting. So do you speak another language besides English?
CS: Yes, I learnt during my training to speak Xhosa en ek praat Afrikaans.
A: I wanted to ask you, I know some people call sangoma’s, witch doctors, is that incorrect?
CS: No, it is just a different way of saying the same thing. It’s just the English word for it, but the connotations around witch doctor are...
A: More negative?
CS: Yes, I hate it when people call me witch doctor.
A: I just wanted to understand if there was a difference. Where do you get all your herbs from and when you throw the bones, where they from when you did your ceremonies?
CS: Various places, I grow a lot of my own herbs. And what I can’t get here, I get when I go to the Transkei, and I get them from the forests and places, it depends on what we need.
A: And your beads? Do you have different ones you wear at different times?
CS: Yes, definitely. The easiest way to recognise a sangoma is that they will have beads like this, that go down their neck. You receive your white beads right at the beginning, when you are a thwasa, a traainee.
A: Do you have a favourite accessory?
CS: Yes, my head beads, they were made by another sangoma in the TRANSKEI.
A: Has anyone seen your beads and liked them and wanted ones like yours?
CS: yes, people have often asked me to make them something, but I’m still learning. It is very time consuming.
A: The skin around your wrists, is that from your cow?
CS: Yes, from my cow and the goat. When you become a sangoma, you will dream about colours for your beads, and then those are the colours you will use when making your beads.
A: So yours are blue, black and white?
CS: Yes. And the meaning of those on the first level is that white is the colour of spirit, black being the colour of the earth, and water being the blue. Then of course it also represents the white and the black people, and the blue is the healing and bridging of the two.
A: I see, so there are double meanings. What type of clientele comes to see you?
CS: Obviously I can’t tell you who comes to see me because of confidentiality, but it’s a real mix, white people, black people, women, men, rich people, poor people…
A: What kind of cases have you worked on?
CS: Various ailments. Sometimes they are being called to do the training. Sometimes people need to have house cleanses.
A: Have you ever had someone come to you and ask you to dispel bad rumours about them?
CS: Yes, definitely, people wanting help from a magical perspective, wanting help with bad luck, or to draw love, all of those kind of things. If someone’s husband is having an affair and the wife wants to cast a spell on them, I won’t do that. I don’t practise the dark magic. I am IGQIRHAKAZI, which means a female sangoma, bringer of light.
A: I was wondering about the dark on goings, it is quite controversial… it must be interesting working with so many different cases. I want to ask you more about dreams and how influential they are in everything.
CS: Dreaming is also something that needs to be defined and people access the world of dreaming in different ways. I have followed my dreams literally and figuratively. The whole training teaches you about waiting for signs in dreams, and interpreting dreams. People do ask me about what their dreams mean.
A: It’s so much that you predict the future or anything like that?
CS: No, I don’t like working with the future. I look at what’s going on now, what lead to it, and how we can assist in alleviating the challenges, so that people can move on.
A: Okay, I just wanted to understand that.
CS: Of course
A: Do you enjoy cooking and do you make any traditional foods?
CS: I cook as I’m sure most other house-wives do. We enjoy pap, especially the mixture of cabbage, spinage and pap altogether.
A: I think I’ve tried that once before.
CS: And then we my other favourite is samp and beans. I have two ladies helping me I the house, and the one makes traditional Xhosa bread and all sorts of yummy things.
A: Early we were talking about the symptoms you got surrounding your liver, if people don’t respond to their callings, I have heard the results are quite serious and people get very ill?
CS: Oh yes, people get very ill, they might go mad and they might die, it’s like leaving any illness untreated. It was phenomenal how after I had put the first beads on, within three days I was feeling like everything was going to be okay.
A: Amazing. And you said you had people coming to you with symptoms of the calling. What would your advice be to anyone who might be getting the calling?
CS: I will throw the bones and check for them. Some people just need to acknowledge their ancestors, because so many people have lost touch with that and being thankful for what they have. The first thing they need to do is inform their family about what they need to do. There are often a lot of problems in the white households. We let them know that this is something that will heal them ultimately and make them into the strong people that they are.
A: It seems to be becoming more common that there are white people finding out that they are having these callings. But it seems to be more that people are aware of the callings.
CS: Yes, definitely
A: And that with previously people did not understand what was going on, and did not have the knowledge they do now, so they would just ignore the symptoms.
CS: Yes, there is an answer within South Africa. It is becoming more widely known and widely accepted. Thankfully we are finding a way back to acknowledging the spiritual bankruptcy that we have sat in for many years.
A: So have you seen the movie, Mr Bones?
A: And what do you think about it?
CS: Well it definitely makes light of it. I thought two things, one: it did bring the message home to white South Africans that this is something real. For those more cynical, I think it was quite derogatory and a lot of people would say to me as I was walking along, ‘hey Mr Bones’ and call me Mr Bones. And I would laugh with them and say actually, I have boobs, I am female! [Laughs]
CS: I would say if they want to know more about it, they must ask. You have to understand – teasing comes from a place of fear and lack of understanding. Leon Shuster has crossed the bridge, but I think he is trying to bring across knowledge in a humorous way. He put some things that are very pertinent to the tradition in the movie, that others wouldn’t realise had they not walked the path.
A: that is very interesting. Clair, I have a last question for you, what would be your ultimate goal?
CS: That’s a tricky question for me, because I am not somebody that’s very fond of goals. I think goals set up expectations that result in people getting frustrated and disillusioned with themselves. But, ultimately when I come to my place of rest, I would like to have seen the seven wonders of the world. I would like to see greater global harmony and I would like to see the gap between the poor and the rich lessen.
CS: I feel very blessed to have what I have and just ask the ancestors to guide me.