By Mia Snyman (CP)
JOHANNESBURG — With the vuvuzelas so far falling short of providing a winning boost to South Africa at the World Cup, some locals are turning to other, far more imaginative means of help.
In order to increase Bafana Bafana's chances of making it through the first round of the tournament, the first to be played on the African continent, people are burning, brewing and smoking.
Muti, or traditional medicine, is very much in use in modern-day South Africa. 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. Sometimes, muti can contain human body parts.
"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 on Wednesday and needs to beat France on Tuesday to have any chance of reaching the knockout rounds. 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, believing that burning muti at football 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 believes in muti, but thinks he may have previously been a victim of someone else's burning concoction.
"I once lost in a competition were 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 football 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.
Angunsto Honwano, a 22-year-old street vendor from Belfour, south of Johannesburg, is also 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."
Muti also has a dark side, however. Muti killings, in which a person's body parts are used to supposedly make the medicine stronger, are still all too common on the continent.
Some estimates say there are about 300 muti killings each year in South Africa, and very few of them get reported.
In 2001, the body of a young African boy was found in the Thames near London's Tower Bridge, and experts identified it to be a muti-related killing.
But the dark side aside, Lushaba said muti can help South Africa beat France and reach the next round of the World Cup — as long as the players believe in it.
"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."
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