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Truth behind traditional healers

Ntsebeng Motsoeli


MASERU — Do you want to be promoted at work?

Is your boss giving you trouble at work?

Are you tired of failing your examinations?

Do you want to protect your job and family?

Are witches making your life hell?

Do you want to bring back your lost lover? 

Well, Dr McTemba says he has just the right solution to your problems.

He can help you conceive, get a job, and make your lover stick to you only or enlarge your manhood.

And he can help you communicate with your ancestors who are in the “other world”.

Dr McTemba is one of the many traditional healers operating “surgeries” in Maseru.

Curious about the powers that these self-acclaimed healers purport to have, I decided to consult Dr McTemba who operates from the second floor of Oxford Building along Main North Road.

To test his “mystic powers” I decided I was going to tell Dr McTemba I was a student struggling with exams.

As I enter Dr McTemba’s clinic on Friday afternoon a stench of burning incense greets me.

A woman, who I later learn is Dr McTemba’s receptionist, greets me with a beaming smile that looks so bright I feel it’s a bit exaggerated.

I am not the only one waiting for the doctor because next to me sits a young, pretty lady who looks anxious to have a word with Dr McTemba.

But unlike me, she does not seem bothered a bit by the putrid smell of the burning incense.

That’s perhaps because she has been here before but I can’t say that’s for sure.

The receptionist tells me that the doctor is not yet in but asks me to pay a consultation fee of M30.

I decide to get some tidbits from the receptionist before her boss arrives.

The doctor can do everything he claims in the advertisement, she assures me.

And when I tell her that I had been failing my exams for years, she wears that wide smile that greeted me when I entered the room and assures me that I have come to the right place.

By the time Dr McTemba enters the clinic his receptionist has convinced me that he has some magical powers to solve every problem.

At that moment I am having a second thought about lying to him about my reason for coming to his surgery.

Yet as soon as I set my eyes on him something in me tells me to stick to my story.

Dr McTemba’s does not look like the normal traditional healers I have heard about or seen in those low-budget African movies.

For starters he doesn’t look scary.

He is not dressed in that weird attire made up of colourful feathers and beads.

In fact he is too casually dressed to be a traditional healer.

His appearance just breaks the myth that I have always had about traditional healers being a shabby and dirty lot.

Yet all this does little to calm my nerves.

I had heard stories of how they can “sort you out” if you mess around with them.

An hour passes before Dr McTemba’s first consultation ends.

The young woman who was sitting next to me walks out of the consultation room and the receptionist tells me I am next.

The consultation room is dim.

The only source of light is a lit candle.

Dark red cloths are hung on the windows.

Sitting behind a table is Dr McTemba and he looks totally different from the man I saw in the waiting room earlier.

He is now wrapped in a large red-and-black cloth similar to the one covering the window.

He wears a bright red piece of cloth on the head, letting it drop on both sides of the head.

On top is a white woolen hat.

He offers me a seat on the opposite side of the table.

Between us is a small table filled with glass jars that contain colourful powders.

Also on the table is a big gourd with a red cloth tied around it.

The air in the small room is opaque with smoke from three sticks burning on the table. 

“What is your name ‘m’e and how can I help you?” he asks as he prepares to write down in his notebook.

I tell him a fake name and explain that exams are giving me hell.

I get frightened when I sit for exams and I have failed many times, I tell him.

He tells me he will speak to his ancestors to seek answers to my problems.

From one of the jars on the table he pours powdery substance in his hands.

He tells me to hold the gourd in my hands.

He picks one burning stick, stands and walks towards me.

On his other hand is a notebook.

Then he suddenly goes into a trance and starts chanting in a strange language as he paces around the room.

When he remains in that state for about three minutes my heart starts pounding, fearing that maybe his ancestors would reveal to him that I am a fake patient who has come to test his powers just for the sake of a newspaper story.

Then all of a sudden the trance stops.

I am relieved to be talking to a “normal” Dr McTemba again.

But just as I am thinking the weird part of the consultation is over he takes his notebook and starts writing from right to left in some strange language.

“I can see through you,” he says.

That statement startles me because I am thinking maybe he has realised I have lied to him.

But I had to remain calm because that was part of my plan to see if traditional healers can really “see through” as they claim.

“There are problems more serious in your life which cause your bad luck in examinations,” Dr McTemba says.

“However, I will not tell you those because you came here with one problem.

“All I can say is that you have to be treated on this issue first so that things go right in your life.”

“I will give you medicine,” he says.

“You could use it in your bathing water, burn it and cover your head over it to inhale the fumes or put it in your bag or pocket before you go to the examination room.

“Chant as you bath or inhale the medicine. Say what you want.”

“But do it quietly so that the person in the next room does not hear,” he adds.

“Never share it with anyone. It is yours alone.”

He wraps the powder in a piece of newspaper and hands it to me.

As I walk out of Dr McTemba’s “surgery” my head starts pounding with pain.

I suspect it could be those herbs that Dr McTemba was burning in the consultation room.

But what strikes me is that I had just lied to a “doctor” and he had not “seen through” me.

His powers had not been able to see that I had given him a wrong name, address and disease.

And I am not even at school.

When I was there I was not a genius but I did fairly well.

Another traditional doctor not so far from my doctor is Dr Hamza from Uganda.

He too says his medicine is the most potent in town.

“Our medicine cures. People have come back to thank me for helping them,” says the 27-year-old doctor.

“It is strong medicine. We get it from west African countries.”

He adds: “We have medicine for cancer, tuberculosis, sexually transmitted illnesses and dental health.”

But he will not tell me how the medicine works unless I come “as a patient, not as a news reporter”.

Like Dr McTemba, he claims to see through people.

But after the session I had with the other doctor my disbelief in traditional healers is even stronger.

Dr Hamza sees it somehow as he tries to play mind games with me.

He claims that someone from his office had called me on my phone before I came.

That, of course, is a pure lie but our conversation is cut short when a client comes in.

She should be a regular here as the doctor cheers up when she enters.

They take off their shoes and disappear into the consultation room.

So what were Dr McTemba’s “damages?”

Well, M30 for consultation and M450 for the medicine.

I paid because I was on assignment but some pay because they genuinely believe that they are being helped.

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