From an Australian academic now US-based, a discursive and languidly paced account of an alleged bewitching in Soweto, South Africa, that suggests wider political and psychological significance.
Since 1990 Ashforth (Social Science/Institute for Advanced Study) has spent months visiting and living in Soweto, where he befriended Madumo, the classmate of an exchange student he had once taught in Minnesota. When he returned to Soweto on a recent visit, he learned that his friend was in trouble. Then in his 30s, Madumo was unemployed and living in a small, barely furnished room. He’d lost his tuition money and had turned to dealing drugs and counterfeiting. His family blamed him for his mother’s death and refused to let him stay in her Soweto house. Overwhelmed by his troubles, Madumo told Ashforth that he believed he had been bewitched. A skeptical Ashforth questioned Madumo’s old friends, as well as devout Christians like his landlady—and all admitted that there might be something to Madumo’s claim. Ashforth agreed to pay for Madumo to consult an inyanga (a healer whose skills are regarded as benign, unlike those of a witch). The treatment recommended was costly, physically debilitating, and lengthy. While Madumo subjected himself to painful purges and tried to follow the healer’s directives, Ashforth continued his investigation and learned that witchcraft was endemic in South Africa. Madumo, a reflective man, suggested that it was currently widespread because of the recent political changes: in the old days, apartheid could be blamed for every ill, but now that it no longer exists there is no universal evil to hold responsible for unemployment, misfortune, and poverty. And as some blacks become wealthy and successful while others don’t, it is tempting to blame some external force for one’s problems.
A persuasive and interesting account that gets lost in the drawn-out and diffused story of an unorthodox healing.