Everybody thought I was crazy - now I bring my calling as a sangoma to the boardroom

A female sangoma standing in the sun
A female sangoma standing in the sun

“How can we know each other, or understand the whole of our reality, if we don’t hear each other’s stories?”

This is and has always been prominent journalist Ruda Landman’s view of the world, particularly South Africa. Remember her as an anchor on Carte Blanche back in the day?

Featuring a variety of insights and compelling interviews, Ruda Landman’s experience stretches over many years and is a kaleidoscope of stories that touch on everything from coming out, following a calling to changing careers.

In this excerpt, published with permission from NB publishers, Ruda Landman chats to Dineo, a sangoma who brings her practices to the boardroom.

Image: supplied

Dineo, Gogo Dineo as her students call her, lives on the faultline between tradition and the modern world, bringing her calling as a sangoma into boardrooms and training sessions where she works as coach and facilitator. She has a lesson for every one of us who still believes that our view of the world is the only one that is valid.

We talked in Johannesburg in August 2016.

Ruda: Dineo, let’s go right back to the beginning. At school you wanted to be a chemical analyst. What did you study finally, and where did that take you as a first job?

Dineo: Growing up in Alex (Alexandra township in Johannesburg), I knew that the only way out of that life was to study and work hard, but unfortunately I didn’t even study anything afterwards because my calling started when I was at school.

I got a scholarship to go to a private school, and my teachers actually came and spoke to my mom, saying that they were worried about me, because I was taking it too far.

I used to study the whole book in advance – by the time my teacher got there, I was like, “No, that’s not how it works...”

Ruda: You were every teacher’s nightmare.

Dineo:  Yes. They probably thought it was because of that that I was having episodes...

He spoke about the role of healers and African shamans, and about how science fails to understand (the difference between) when you are birthing into the call and when you are psychotic

Ruda: Episodes?

Dineo:  Yes, I would say, “I’m seeing things,” and I would be prophetic in class, but I don’t remember those episodes.

When I went to the private school, it became worse because I was far away from home, from my family. I actually had to be sent off to an institution for six months in my matric year.

Everybody thought I was crazy, I thought I was crazy, and at church they thought I was demonic or possessed, so it was really a difficult time.

Ruda: Heavens, Dineo, how did you experience that, to be put in a psychiatric institution at 18?

Dineo:  It was very difficult because you are in an institution with people who almost committed suicide, heavy depression, anorexia... and also, it was at a time when Satanism was rife, so I was caught between... I didn’t know: was I being called by something else or was I mentally sick?

The psychiatrist could not find a thorough diagnosis for what was happening to me, because when I was in conversation with them, I sounded proper, and all the medical tests that they ran came out negative, so they gave me the closest diagnosis that they could think of . . .

WATCH: Gogo Dineo Ndlanzi talks about culture, interpreting dreams, traditions and more on #FreshBreakfast

Ruda: Which was what?

Dineo:  Temporal lobe epilepsy. The medication actually made me worse, so they realised that was not it.

And then one day (having left the institution and started in a job) I took a group of business people to Wits, to the Origins Centre, and we were speaking to a scientist about the birth of innovation and where we come from.

He spoke about the role of healers and African shamans, and about how science fails to understand (the difference between) when you are birthing into the call and when you are psychotic.

So I was sitting at the back of the room and I cried, because he said a lot of people find themselves in mental institutions and they should not be there.

READ MORE: What I learned when my mother said: 'I’m tired. I’m not going to cook anymore.'

Ruda: And suddenly you thought: “I’m not mad, I’m not...!”

Dineo: Ja. But I was still experiencing extreme depression, extreme mood swings, so there was a part of me that knew that I was not mad, but... my schooling was all about logical thinking, and this was very illogical.

So when I had those episodes, because it didn’t make sense at a logical level, I would think maybe I am mad.

Ruda: But a number of people in your parents’ family, the earlier generations, were healers. Did it not attract you?

Dineo: Well, I was raised by my maternal family, not by my paternal family.

Ruda: Oh, I see. Did you know that your father’s family was working in this tradition?

Dineo: Yes, but I was a born-again Christian, so I did not associate with those practices, because in the belief system to which I belonged, they were demonised.

They were talking to the dead, they were talking to ancestors. The word “ancestor” was taboo in the church, so I didn’t want to associate with that. I grew up with my maternal family, who were not very strong in traditional practices.

And then I became curious about my African identity, because I started to question: if I call the God of Abraham, and I have no idea who he is, but I denounce the God of my people, you know, of my grandfather – I was raised by my grandfather, a great honourable man, to whom I attribute a lot of who I am today – it didn’t make sense, it was a contradiction

My mum went from one church to the other, so that’s what was familiar to me. I told my dad I was not going to be praising demons and the devil. I was quite resistant to that.

Ruda: So what finally facilitated the change?

Dineo: Knowing who I am, that I’m always striving towards greatness and doing better... I was struggling. It seemed as if no matter what I put in, I was not getting anywhere.

I’m the one who is always hungry for wisdom and seeking understanding, so I ask a lot of questions.

So I started to ask God questions and I said: “Well, God, I’m a good young person, I go to church seven days a week, but nothing is coming forth, I’m still stuck. I can’t further my studies, I can’t be in a good healthy relationship, nothing I hold seems to last, what is really going on?”

The answer was that we were called to sign up for Bible studies.

It was the most beautiful thing – I went there thinking I will know Genesis to Revelation, but it really taught me who God is. God is not in the church. God is within you.

READ MORE: Bollywood movies taught me so many life lessons - here are some you might not expect

Ruda:  How did you get to that understanding, from Bible study?

Dineo: I asked God and God showed up, right?

Because we had a Bible study teacher who taught us a spiritual understanding of who God is, not a religious understanding, not God as a figure who only lives within the four walls in which we worship and praise.

Ruda: You were lucky to come across someone like that!

Dineo: That’s true. And then I became curious about my African identity, because I started to question: if I call the God of Abraham, and I have no idea who he is, but I denounce the God of my people, you know, of my grandfather – I was raised by my grandfather, a great honourable man, to whom I attribute a lot of who I am today – it didn’t make sense, it was a contradiction.

The more I was steeped in who I was as an African, all my negatives started to shift.

My dad always said I had a calling. He said: “You see, your calling will be very different from mine. You’re going to be a sangoma but you’re going to work differently.”

He was right – yes, I was trained as a sangoma but I’m trained in other healing modalities as well. I mean, spirit does not have race, does not have gender.

Those things that humans have put into boxes... I feel my work as a sangoma is beyond just African belief systems, it’s more about trying to have people understand their spiritual identities and that in spirit there are no limitations and there are no boxes.

Ruda: Dineo, but on a practical level it was a huge commitment. You were basically bankrupt, and one has to pay for the courses, not so?

Dineo:  Ja, ja... we were going through a financial crisis in 2010 and when you work for a (leadership and change management) consultancy you are always reliant on clients, so... we didn’t have any big clients and my boss said to me: “We cannot renew your contract,” and I had just said I’m going to do this training.

For me this was also a positive thing, because remember, I come from linear logical thinking, so what this invited me to do was to really believe in the non-visible and surrender to the process...

READ MORE: I married a white woman and many call me a traitor

Ruda: Step into the void.

Dineo: Yes, I stepped in fully. (During the training) I was in somebody else’s face for 24 hours out of the 24, which was really hard. (As a teenager) you go to school and you come back home. (During the training) school is home.

I stayed with this woman for about 12 months, you know, learning and training to become a healer, but a lot happened apart from learning to become a healer.

A lot of things were challenged, a lot of things were shifted. I became a better woman, because taking the healing practice requires huge responsibility.

You’re working with big complex human issues... people come to you, hoping and trusting that you will help them understand what is going on.

READ MORE: Our pick of all the incredible SA authors you should be reading right now

*Please note: All royalties from the sale of this book will go to StudyTrust, an organisation which supports university students. Find out more about the organisation at www.studytrust.org.za

Purchase a copy of the book from Raru.co.za

Sign up to W24’s newsletters so you don't miss out on any of our hot stories and giveaways.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Who is your current favourite local fashion girl you look to for style inspo?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Yasmin Furmie
0% - 0 votes
Katlego Tefu
0% - 0 votes
Thithi Nteta
0% - 0 votes
Phola Ayanda Gumede
0% - 0 votes
Lesego 'Thickleeyonce' Legobane
0% - 0 votes
Ricci Lee Kalish (Big Bad Wolf)
0% - 0 votes
Palesa Kgasane
0% - 0 votes
Sarah Langa
0% - 0 votes
Mihlali Ndamase
0% - 0 votes
Zoe Msutwana
0% - 0 votes