African muti used to help South Africa at WCup

Jun 21, 2010 - 5:32 PM By MIA SNYMAN Associated Press Writer

JOHANNESBURG(AP) -- With vuvuzelas so far failing to give a winning boost to South Africa at the World Cup, some locals are looking for other ways to help the national team.

In an effort to help Bafana Bafana make good on their slim chance of advancing past the opening round of the tournament - the first to be played on the African continent - people are burning, brewing and smoking.

They are practitioners of muti, or traditional medicine.

Traditionalists believe a mixture of herbs, plants and animal parts, such as vulture brains and aloe, can be used to change luck, heal sickness or enhance performance.

"Muti works," said Miriam Lethaba, a 62-year-old domestic worker from Ratanda, a township west of Johannesburg. "It can make Bafana strong."

South Africa's national team lost to Uruguay last week and needs to beat France on Tuesday to have any chance of reaching the tournament's knockout phase. If it fails to advance, South Africa would become the first host team to be eliminated from the tournament in the first round.

In order to avoid that embarrassment, traditional healers - called sangomas - are doing their best to give the team an edge, convinced that burning muti at soccer matches can change the team's luck.

"I believe that muti can improve Bafana's performance," said Abel Zwane, a 50-year-old merchant who sells traditional medicine in Heidelberg, outside Johannesburg.

Jaco Lushaba, a 40-year-old traditional Zulu dancer from Ratanda, said he also has faith in the power of muti, but thinks he may have previously been a victim of someone else's burning concoction.

"I once lost in a competition where the smell of muti was everywhere," Lushaba said. "It made me confused and I could not perform at my best."

Muti developed among the indigenous people of Africa over centuries. The name comes from the Zulu word for tree. Some traditionalists burn or brew muti to ensure good fortune and others use it to predict forthcoming events.

"People go to sangomas to make muti for good luck and to see into the future," said Ibrahim Hoosen, a 66-year-old Heidelberg man who owns a muti shop.

Sangomas are found in the Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi and Ndebele cultures of southern Africa.

Some white South Africans, like Ben van der Merwe, have studied with sangomas and also make muti.

Van der Merwe, however, isn't convinced that his potions would be of any use to the national soccer team.

"The only sport-related muti treatment that I know of is called 'flesh builders,' but I have not heard of anyone who uses muti to influence Bafana's performance," said Van der Merwe, an Afrikaner from Heidelberg.

Indeed, muti treatments are well outside the mainstream, both in terms of medical practice and religious practice in a nation that is about 80 percent Christian. At its extreme, muti has been associated with killings for the use of human organs in its rituals, but that has not been associated with the World Cup.

"These practices are more spiritual than scientific, therefore we cannot justify its active ingredients and we cannot comment on the effectiveness of its methods as our members specialize in conventional methods," said Dr. Norman Mabasa, the chair of the South African Medical Association. "But we understand that people have the freedom of belief."

Angunsto Honwano, a 22-year-old street vendor from Balfour, south of Johannesburg, is among those skeptical about muti's ability to help Bafana Bafana.

"Muti works for good luck," Honwano said. "But for Bafana, they will have to play hard to get through the first round."

Lushaba said the players just have to have faith.

"The problem is that there are many different cultures in the Bafana team and I don't think that they all believe in the power of muti," Lushaba said. "The only way muti can work for Bafana Bafana is if every member of the team believes that it can work.

"Muti is about believing. If you do not truly believe that it can work, then it won't."

No one has shouted yet.
Be the first!