Thato Nkone—widely known as Sandawana—has become one of the most popular traditional doctors in Lesotho, if not the most sought-after muti man in the country.
One of the very few inyangas who can afford to air a radio programme for more than 30 minutes, Sandawana claims he can use herbs to treat illnesses that resist modern medication and evoke spiritual powers where the living can communicate with dead relatives to solve different problems.
Even more intriguing, Sandawana claims he can put a curse on those who would have contributed to the death of one’s loved ones so they would suffer for the rest of their lives.
Sandawana also insists his muti can help desperate jobseekers to secure employment, while also claiming to have ‘medicine’ that guarantees all the luck in the world for one to get rich.
When a Sunday Express team visited one of his workstations in Maseru expecting to see a dingy, makeshift stall like hundreds of other so-called herbalists, we were really taken by surprise.
Instead, we found the herbalist renting a room at a small business centre in the northern side of the capital’s central business district.
Granted, the office is not at an upmarket centre, but it is still unusual that a traditional doctor works in such a formal office park.
Meeting the man in person is even more shocking for he is not your usual inyanga in rags and animal skin.
Sandawana is a regular guy who looks well-fed, with a clear facial skin, a well groomed beard and a head shaven clean to reveal a glowing sculp.
Born in Mokhotlong in “the 1970s”, Nkone said he was lucky to get a job in a South African gold mine in 2003. He was however, not lucky enough to keep the job after his supervisor expressed dissatisfaction with his work.
“I was moved around various sections at the mine because my bosses were not happy with my work. I was hurt by this treatment, which I thought was very unfair. It was then that I realised that I had a special gift because I was able to heal my pain,” Nkone says.
“I already had knowledge of herbs that I had gained from my elders back home. I would bring the herbs from home and sell to my colleagues at the mine.”
Demand for his services got higher when he began to use his newly discovered ability to heal with his hands.
“I touched people in the area where they would be feeling pain and some would say the pain had gone down or disappeared completely.”
Eventually, Nkone says he found himself unable to reconcile expectations at his workplace and demands from his clients.
Meanwhile, he says back home, many people had already started seeking his services.
“In 2009, I decided to come back home to start the business on the land of my forefathers. I settled in Butha-Buthe where most of my clients were.”
Soon, word about Sandawana and the good results of his work spread, he said.
“People started to come from as far as Qacha’s Nek and Thaba-Tseka. Some would specially invite me to their families for whatever service they wanted.”
As a result of the high demand, Nkone says he had to open more stations in other districts.
“I work from all the stations on various days. I travel all over the country. I still get invitations from individuals who want to consult in the privacy of their homes. Some calls even come from as far as the Free State in South Africa.”
Sandawana is a busy man and the frequent ringing of his two smartphones seems to bear testimony to his hectic schedule.
Many of the callers, he says, are people who want to hear when he would visit certain stations.
We ask how many clients he has.
“Come here on Sunday and you will see for yourself,” he answers, trying hard not to blow his own horn.
We are reliably informed that dozens of people from all walks of life line-up to get a chance to be attended to by Sandawana.
“People from all walks of life come for my services; ordinary people, the poor, the rich, the learned and even churchgoers. Their problems are various. Most are regulars and so they just come to refill their medicine,” he says.
In the office where our meeting is going on there are people coming in to buy concoctions that he produces.
The products range from drinking medicine, ointments, soap and bath salts.
One of the popular products is Sandawana Special—an ointment that he claims drives away evil spirits.
Ngoanana ha a Panye and Nchebe Mpitse,which can be loosely translated as “A girl doesn’t wink” and “Look and call me”, respectively, can get you a job, he says.
He plays down suggestions that he is rich, but says he forks out well over M30 000 a month for his slots on two local radio stations where he advertises his products.
This is also the man who, last December, solely bankrolled a soccer tournament to the tune of M50 000 where the winner walked away with half of the prize-money.
The phenomenal growth of his practice saw him employing more people to assist him.
He does not even remember how many people he employs. “I would have to look into my documents,” he says.
Nkone also says he returns to his home in Butha-Buthe to retire for the day.
At the entrance to his business we found a top-of-the-range BMW.
He slips into the back seat while his chauffeur takes the wheel and off they drive off—presumably to Butha-Buthe.