'My gobela said he saw isilwane inside me and needed to remove it, then he raped me'

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There is no practice in African healing that involves sex, the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities has told Drum.
There is no practice in African healing that involves sex, the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities has told Drum.
PHOTO: GALLO IMAGES/Mosidi Seretlo (Sharon)

She knew something was wrong but she could not articulate her feelings, because she did not know whether what was happening to her was normal. 

The Johannesburg woman was lured by her gobela into his hotel room where he told her he needed to remove “isilwane (animal spirit)”. Then he raped her. She says he has more victims.

Mamello Phakathi* (42) lost her job in 2020 and the pandemic did not make it easy for her to gain entry into the marketing field again. Things were not looking great, and she was fast running out of her savings. She got in touch with an old friend, Thandeka Bhengu*, who was a sangoma and wanted to consult with her. Thandeka told her that she could not do the consultation because Mamello had a calling too, and that there was a yellow light around her.

Thandeka then said they should travel to the Eastern Cape so that Mamello can consult with her gobela.

“I had known Thandeka for years, so I trusted her when she said I should consult with her gobela. I even confided in her that my family was not on board with me going for training to be a sangoma. She also know that I was not familiar with anything related to izangoma, in fact, when we were in the Eastern Cape she even had to translate and explain some concepts to me because it was completely new territory to me,” she says.

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After the Eastern Cape consultation, the women went back to Johannesburg. Then, weeks later, the gobela told Mamello that he had business to attend to in Johannesburg and that he needed to see her.

“I saw nothing untoward with that and I went and bought Gordon’s and Viceroy, because when we went to his house, Thandeka said were need to have that alcohol when speaking to him.

“I had been informed about how powerful he was and when I was in the Eastern Cape, I had seen him in action and how people just gave him so much respect and served him, so I did the same when he was this side.”

The two spoke briefly in his hotel room then Mamello says she left.

On her way home, the gobela called her and told her to return to his hotel room immediately because she was in grave danger.

“I could not return to him that night because of curfew and I asked him to tell me which areas of my life were a concern, but he said it was all just bad and it was giving him headaches. He told me to return as soon as possible," the woman told Drum.

“The next morning, I was waiting for curfew hours to be lifted. Then I left home at 4.30am and made my way to his hotel room. I had barely slept, trying to figure out what was wrong me. In his hotel room he told me he saw isilwane inside me and he needed to remove it. I kept asking questions like what isilwane is and how it got inside me, and he told me to keep quiet and trust him."


“He also told me that because of his seniority, I needed to trust whatever therapy he deemed appropriate. I was sitting on a chair, and he told me to close my eyes and I did. Then he started fondling my breasts and out of shock I asked what he was doing, and he told me to keep quiet because he was working.”

It was in the middle of a Joburg winter and Mamello had four layers of clothing on and the gobela told her to remove them one by one until she was topless.

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Mamello says he then penetrated her by hand before he started raping her. As he raped her, "he and moved a couple of times and he performed like a sangoma experiencing something and made sounds. He did not come inside me, and he told me to take a shower because isilwane had been removed.”

After she was done in the shower she wanted to leave but he wanted them to sit down and talk, the woman says. “We held hands like we were in a group therapy session.”

Days later she spoke to a friend about it then she phoned Thandeka who screamed in shock when she said the gobela had raped her, says Mamello.

“Then she hung up the phone on me. She later told me that she wanted to support me, but also said that the gobela was seeking help. I then learnt that it was not the first time that he had done this.”

Mamello then opened a case at her nearest police station. 

'There were others'

Drum has seen an email from another woman, giving details of her ordeal, allegedly at the hands of the same gobela. She says he raped her “during my spiritual quest” in October 2013.

“I do not have a clear recollection of what happened when this supposed dlozi (ancestral spirit) had awakened. Later that evening, he left for his house and came back, he told me he had a vision and that I had once consumed a hard bodied chicken and this thing had turn into isilwane which is why nothing is working out for me, and it had to be immediately removed," the woman's email reads in part.

The woman says the gobela applied "muthi on his penis and penetrated me until he came:. "He then told me that this was normal, and I will be fine as he has taken this isilwane out . . . I felt dirty and used."

'Gobelas are the custodians of culture and they will never hurt someone they're healing'

The Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities’ commissioner Sheila Mbele wakwa Khama says there is no practice in African healing that involves sex.

“That is purely criminal and insulting. This behaviour has nothing to do with African spirituality. Real and authentic gobelas have a code of conduct and rules and regulations that they follow. When healing needs to be done, it has to be to done in the correct way and not in hotel room."

“Instances like this bring shame when in reality authentic gobelas are the custodians of culture and they will never hurt. Also, you do not choose your gobela, your ancestors direct you to the right one which has the right kind of healing that you need,” she says.

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Mamello says Thandeka upset her when she said she spoke to the gobela and he said but they were flirting when they were in the Eastern Cape. “That is not true, I was not flirting with him, he is not even my type. But even if I were flirting, I am 42-year-old, he could have just asked me out and not assault me in the name of culture, after false pretences.”

Brigadier Thembinkosi Kinana says police in the Eastern Cape are investigating a case against the gobela. 

"The rape case incident occurred at Village 4," Kinana said. "According to the information the 23 year old victim visited a traditional healer who allegedly raped her under the pretext that he was taking away curses or evil spirits. Police are currently investigating the circumstances of the incident."

The gobela will be appearing in court on 17 September.

*Not their real names

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