Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Faraday Market (South Africa)

Today I spent a day at Faraday Market in town (Johannesburg). It was great to walk the bustling streets of President and Diagonal, popping into shops to purchase my ancestral regalia and tools. Around me were fellow healers who greeted me respectfully
"Thokoza Makhosi" to which I replied "Makhosi, unjani?".
Other's with babies on their backs tried to avoid the aggressive vendors on the street selling skin lightening creams while shop keepers offered the best prices on blankets. Quick chatter passed me as some spoke quietly and other's rambuctiously approached me "Umlungu Isangoma? eish (a white traditional healer, wow)' while other's blatantly asked me "are you a sangoma?"
"Yebo, Thokoza". I replied.

As I finished purchasing my njindi's (healer printed cloth) and moshweshwe's (traditional material), I climbed back in the bakkie (small pick up truck) to head to Faraday market. After heading down Von Welliegh street past Eloff, we entered under the M1 where hundreds of taxi's now rested for the day. The drivers kept busy cleaning their transport, or talking amongst themselves, while traditionally dressed vendors provided braaied (barbequed) mealies, cool drinks, sweets and sometimes sex to their patrons. I rolled down the window "Ou Gupi Faraday Muti Market? (where is the Faraday Medicine market?)".

"Jig ama right at the robots, and jigga right again, its there, just there", replied the vendor busy preparing mealie pap on an open fire.

Following her instructions we found ourselves in front of the Faraday Centre. A new and well kept buidling. From the car I could see raw herbal medicine and bottle formulas in front of a sunlight doorway. "This is it" I replied, as Luwie pulled over. A security guard quickly ushered is into a parking space.

"Wow" I replied. "I heard the healers were moving into a shletered place but this is better than I expected". As we weaved through the stalls inside and outside of the buildings, we noticed the cleanliness of the fresh concrete. Each stall looked somehow better kept, prouder than the open market which was under the M1 highway for decades. Many healers complained that the previous environemnt gave traditional healers and medicine a bad name. It was cold, darkly lite, unclean and most importantly very dangerous. Now despite being rent payers, increasing the cost of muti by double, the centre was a place of honour for traditional healing and medicine. As I walked through each stall trying to find the Makhosi who had provided me with good medicine for almost a decade, healers greeted me and I them "Thokoza Makhosi", "Unjani Makhosi."
After an absence of two years I felt at home, being greeted, welcomed and also surrounded by medicine. I was so excited about my trip to Faraday that the night before I was unable to sleep considering what I wanted to purchase the next day, everything from herbs to cloth to oils and ancestral items. Suddenly a recognizable face jumped from the group of vendors. "Nomadlozi, hey!". There stood the student of Makhosi. I knew it was her becuase I recognized the gap in her smile where a tooth had rotted. I also recognized her pretty face and youthfullness amongst the older women. "Hey, I saw you and knew you were looking for my Baba, how's your baby, where have you been?" I proceeded to tell her my child was now three and that I was living in Canada. As we approached Makhosi she was busy as usual with her patients. She placed a tablesoon of black powder (insizi) onto newspaper, the powdered pile increased as she continued to open more jars and containers. I walked around her stall identifying Mabona, Vulu Ka Valewa, labateka and other recognizable medicines. She quickly ushered me to a man I had greeted while entering the centre. He sat with three other female healers chopping fresh bulbs with a panga. 'This is the president of the centre", Makhosi told me in broekn english. I kneeled greeting him respectfully.

He then proceeded to speak quickly in Zulu telling me about his travels all over the country. He told me how although he has an organization he is trying to unify all the organizations. We then spoke for many hours about all of the organizations and representatives, who was who, who had left, who was fighting with whom. He then invited me to a gathering for the Zulu king to be held in Johannesburg on August 14th. I explained to him in broken Zulu that I would be in Limpopo until August 15th. We spoke for many hours about the current situaiton of traditional medicine in South Africa. He told me that he felt not much had changed with the new legislation. I chatted with him about the scope for international support for traditional healers in S.A.
After our talk I sat with Makhosi running through my list of medicines I needed. As usual she began to show me her intelezi's (preparations) and loose medicine, telling me what each one was for. I was not the only traditional healer to sit and buy from her. Most of her clients were traditional healers. Her knowledge is so vast and medicine so effective that TH's know to buy from her. I then explained through her student that I needed the medicines cleaned, and gigged (pounded) into a fine powder, otherwsie I would never get them to Canada. I also requested her to send medicine from S.A. to me in Canada. She said she would do it. I left trying to limit my purchases once again suprised by the increase in prices in South Africa. Before leaving Makhosi asked me "what about this one? this is good to wash for success, Thabo Mbeki, the president uses this one!".
"I will be back Saturday Magogo, hang onto it for me". I told her while trying to catch my ride.

In the past few months the president of S.A has shown support for traditional medicine. He has been seen kneeling and honouring his ancestors at public events such as the Freedom Park opening, other's are following suit. White, black, private, governmental all different people from various backgrounds have been seen in The Star consulting with healers and worhsipping the ancestors. After so many years of secrecy of utilization of healer's and public distain public figures are now coming forward. I can only stipulate that the reasons are due to the process of de-apartheid-ing, the African renaissance, the acknowledged role of traditional healers in the fight against HIV/AIDS and for a host of psychosocial and physical problems and as well as the more cynical view that healers are being used as pawns against ARVT. Example in point is the on going battle between the TAC and THO. THO denounce all ARVT and claim TAC advocates ARVT and are simply drug pushers. Although their concerns have some validity. THO is now being seen to represent all if not most traditional healers. In addition, ARVT is seen to be purely toxic and not at all useful. TAC consequently denounces THO and vice versa.
As we left the market, I reflected foundly on the day. I was surprised as I entered each store that all of the owners and shopkeepers remembered me. In fact they remembered me from when I was a twasa (student). Makhosi was proud to tell everyone in the area how she knew me since I was a twasa, she then described to the knowing healers exactly how I looked as a student, to which they all exclaimed "Shame!".
She showed a pride which was tender and not owning. She also explained to me privately that I needed to "remember my strength, power and abilities. Use the medicine". These were her comments when I told her how living in Canada was for me. She found it hard to believe that people live such independent lifestyles. She was most surprised by the idea of needing to receive an invitation to visit someone.

What made the day special was not being reminded of my gifts, or being with fellow healers or purchasing my much needed healing things; it was being in South Africa, being a custodian of healing within this context. Being a representative who is supported by various communities, and for being blessed with this role. It was being home, not having an "african experience" or a visit to a remembered place but being home where my family lives, where my spirit learned to soar and I was and am embraced and encouraged by a diaspora of family and friends known and unknown to me.

Nkosi Sikelele South Africa!

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