Participants in the workshop on the struggles of gay and lesbian sangomas. (Pic: Pharie Sefali)
It’s hard being gay and a sangoma, traditional healer Michael Khumalo told a workshop organised as part of the Khumbulani Pride events in Cape Town last Thursday.
The community did not take gay sangomas seriously, Khumalo said. The workshop which was part of a series designed to educate communities about issues faced by gay and lesbian people. People mocked gay sangomas and undermined their gifts, he said.
“When a heterosexual person seeks help and realises that the sangoma who is going to help him is gay, suddenly he changes his mind, saying that the gayness will rub off on him and that he doesn’t want to be helped by a gay sangoma”, said Khumalo.
Another healer said that in some communities a gay traditional healer was called umthakathi (witch).
“People say that there is no such thing as a gay sangoma, and that there is no gay ancestor and that gay people do not have ancestors, so for them to become sangomas is just evil vibes and they are bewitching people and turning them gay”, said the healer.
Sindiswa Tafeni told the workshop that being lesbian in the township was hard enough, and being a lesbian sangoma was even harder because of the attitude of other sangomas.
“It’s hard to get clients because communities and straight healers speak badly of you. If you go to a traditional ceremony where you meet other healers, they have an attitude of mockery and say that you are faking the healing gift and that being lesbian shows that your ancestors are angry at you,” said Tafeni.
Nokuthula Mbete, who works for the Quaker Peace Center and is a traditional healer and a pastor, said some parents assumed that a child who disclosed that he or she was gay or lesbian was “bewitched” and that the family had been cursed. The children were sent to traditional healers “to reverse the curse and heal the child from the homophobic disease”.
“People take homosexuality as something that can be solved, fixed or cured. I work with youth everyday. Some get suicidal because their parents are giving them traditional medicine to cure the homosexual ‘disease’. So even sangomas have to be educated about sexuality and we have to change their stereotype mindset”, said Mbete.
Khumalo said sangomas were often blamed when initiates disclosed they were gay.
“Initiates do not tell their families that they are gay. When they are in the process of becoming a sangoma they come out of the closet. When the family finds out about their sexuality they assume that the sangoma has turned the initiate gay, and discredit the sangoma”, said Khumalo.
Paula Assubuji, human rights programme manager at Heinrich Boll Stiftung, said the aim of the discussion with traditional healers was to understand how the community responded to gay and lesbian traditional healers and the challenges they faced.
“There is a sense that African cultures are not aligned to human rights. And some of the leaders who play important roles in society, such as traditional healers and local leadership, say that homosexuality is not African.”
Assubuji said through these discussions people could educate each other. She suggested that traditional healers should communicate with their associations to raise their concerns and that the discussions should continue and spread to the traditional community at large.