Being a sangoma in a corporate environment

African spirituality is still considered taboo by many, and we speak to two practising traditional healers about their experiences in the corporate space

When most people think of traditional healers, the first image that comes to mind is an untidy person with dreadlocks who walks bare foot, but this is not the case.

While there are still misconceptions about African spirituality, with some still associating it with witchcraft, many young people are embracing it.

Recently, Rockville actress and presenter Boity Thulo posted on Instagram that she’d undergoneukuthwasa (initiation) to become a sangoma. While some praised her for following her beliefs, others were critical.

Becoming a traditional healer in a modern world can be quite challenging, especially for those who work in the corporate space. Some still frown upon it and this is generally due to a lack of understanding.

Thato Tshukudu (38), who now works for the South African National Parks, had to leave her job due to her calling, as the big bank she worked for at the time did not understand it and struggled to assist her when she realised she had the calling.

“It was a tangible thing that impacted my work because I used to faint a lot. It was six years of dreams that pointed towards the calling, but it physically affected me when I worked at that bank,” she says.
Being a sangoma in a corporate environment
Not understanding what was happening to her, Tshukudu consulted neurologists and all the religious leaders she could think of, but her ’sickness’ continued.

“I ended up not being able to work. And because when you are a sangoma, you are also a spirit medium, it got to the point where the spirits would come at work, and for someone who hasn’t gone through the initiation process, it can actually be a violent event and people sometimes mistake it for fits,” she says.

My whole thing when it comes to African spirituality is that I view it the same way I view other people’s spirituality whether you are Methodist, Catholic or Anglican. It is not anybody’s place to tell you what you are meant to believe.

When this continued, Tshukudu was called into a meeting by her manager and an HR representative and asked to make a decision as to whether she should resign or take unpaid leave to deal with her calling.

“At the the time, their medical aid didn’t recognise traditional healers as medical practitioners who are able to give you sick notes, or to be able to go on sabbatical leave for however long it takes for you to go through initiation,” she says.

Faced with this difficult situation, she decided to quit her job. Tshukudu later joined a company that was very supportive, and today she doesn’t hide who she is and she is free to embrace her traditional beliefs.

“Where I work now is very supportive, I wear my beads and I engage freely with my colleagues,” she says.

“We need to debunk the myth that a sangoma is dirty. There is that Shaka Zulu scary looking, evil persona that they have created, and a lot of that has to do with colonisation. This is because through colonisation we were mentally colonised to believe that everything that has to do with African spirituality is seen as inferior, barbaric and evil, and nothing positive can come out of it,” she says.

What Tshukudu finds interesting is that a lot of prejudice comes from people of African descent, while white foreign nationals are quite open to learning about African spirituality. She has found that most of the prejudice is due to pure ignorance.

While she has been fortunate enough to find an employer who accepts who she is, others have not been that lucky.

She tells us that she recently had to deal with a case of someone who was fired for wearing isiphandla(traditional bracelets) by a food retailer, and another person who was told to remove their beads because they looked unprofessional.

Marcelino Nkuna (29), a Rhodes B Com law graduate, was fired as soon as his employer, an international corporate bank, heard he was a traditional healer.

“Some corporates have a really long way to go regarding how they treat you when they find out you are a healer. There’s so much misunderstanding about what it means to be a sangoma,” he says.

Nkuna shares that many people find it difficult to comprehend how an educated person can become a sangoma.

He was turned down for another job after telling the prospective employer that he was a traditional healer.

“I’ve wanted to be in banking for a number of years and [in the interview] they asked me what one thing people don’t know about me, and I said I was a traditional healer. I didn’t get the job. When I became a temp in the same organisation I discovered that they’d hired someone who was less qualified than me,” he says.

Nkuna believes there needs to be a paradigm shift in how people view African spirituality.

“My whole thing when it comes to African spirituality is that I view it the same way I view other people’s spirituality whether you are Methodist, Catholic or Anglican. It is not anybody’s place to tell you what you are meant to believe.

He concludes that it is high time that African spirituality was viewed with the same respect as other belief systems.

“When you look at certain religions such as hinduism, for example, which is indigenous to some Indian people, no one will say to these people that they are wrong for holding that belief system. But while amadlozi(ancestors) are indigenous to African beliefs, many still view this as a foreign concept,” he says.

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