World Cup 2010: South Africa Looks to the Spiritual World To Help Their Squad

There's a sangoma on the front page of the Johannesburg Star today, leaping in the air outside Soccer City, the venue for the World Cup final on July 11.
All twirly bits, loin cloth and head band, this is the kind of guy Europeans and Americans take one look at...and run the other way.

Especially when they discover he has just slaughtered a cow to bless the 94,600-capacity stadium and performed the uKuphahla ceremony to please the spirits of his ancestors before the big kick-off when South Africa take on Mexico here on June 11.

According to the Star, tribal chiefs and traditional medicine men—some still call sangomas witch doctors—came from all over the region to make the vast "kalabash" or cauldron-shaped stadium ready for their side to triumph.

Given they are the fastest rising team in today's FIFA rankings—Bafana Bafana rose from 90 to 83—they may be having an effect already, though their Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira may want to share the credit.

Black magic? Voodoo? Hey, it could be worse. How about this for a frightening incentive? Diego Maradona has promised today he will run naked through the streets of Buenos Aires if Argentina win the World Cup.

And that's the point. These guys aren't just about superstition and spells, they're about confidence boosting, aiding belief systems, in a more natural way that our sports psychologists or Rudy Geller could ever manage.

I have a unique insight into this. Apart from the passages in my novel A GAME APART (in case you hadn't heard, it's the book you must read before the World Cup, see where I describe scenes I have witnessed inside African dressing rooms, we have a gardener at the old family home in Centurion.

He is the same age as my father, born in 1933. He's lived in a little room out the back since 1975. For years, dad called him "Smart the garden boy." Until I got back from university, my eyes opened, and got chatting to a man also known as "The Reverend James Sibanda."

He hails from Malawi. He is both a local priest and a doctor. A traditional healer. He drives a Mercedes. Dad drives a beat-up Toyota. Every 45 minutes, on a good day, a new patient arrives to have the bones thrown, the ailments healed, the nerves unfrazzled in an ever-changing Rainbow Nation. Smart still mows the lawn between appointments. What a bloke. I was out talking to him and his son Nicholas before I wrote this piece.

I've seen him at work. Throwing the bones from a little velvet bag, giving herbal remedies, offering wise counsel. Just as I've seen the sangoma hunched over his bubbling kalabash before a major game. And I've felt the beneficial affect. Honestly. It works.

Mandla Qeleqele, a member of the Traditonal Healers Organisation here, said of today's "cleansing" ceremony at Soccer City: "The purpose is to say to the ancestors that the world is coming to South Africa. So that everything happens in harmony."

I hope it went well. I hope the highly-educated fans from the developed nations don't just snicker at such Africanisms.

Maybe, just maybe, there's something in it. When I tied a ribbon soaked in "muti," or magic around my waist as a young footballer around these parts, I certainly felt it. A honing of the instincts, a settling of the nerves.

Beware Soccer City on June 11, Mexico. There's magic afoot. And 90,000 blaring Vuvuzelas!
by Neal Collins Link

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