Speaking out against abuse at traditional healing schools

After being raped and abused repeatedly, a trainee reported her trainer to the police – only to be shunned by the sacred community for supposedly dishonouring the name of traditional healing.

Andiswa Khoza, 22, has spoken out against the gobela (trainer) who raped and abused her two years ago while she was training to be a traditional healer, adding to the growing list of names of those speaking out against sexual violations.

Khoza was in Hammanskraal being trained to become a traditional healer when her gobela sexually assaulted and beat her on more than one occasion. 

Since speaking out about what happened, Khoza has been accused of tainting the name of traditional healing. But she feels that those protecting the abusers are at fault. Khoza says elders encourage people to cover up abuses in spaces of cultural practice. 

“If you are fighting us, it means you are condoning this. Then what are we learning?” she asks. “Elders think such cases must be talked about at the school of initiation [and not in court]. They feel like we should sit down and talk. But the thing is, a lot of these cases are coming up now.”

Khoza alleges that gobelas are now making outrageous demands for money, some asking for as much as double the standard amount for training. They are also abusing people “all in the name of fulfilling their personal pleasures rather than the cultural [role they are meant to play]”. Numerous women have come forward with tales of sexual assault in the community. 

The journey ends in pain

The first time Khoza was raped in what is supposed to be a sacred space, her rapist and gobela woke up and acted as though nothing had happened. “He asked me what we were going to eat,” she says. 

Two months before starting her training, Khoza was also raped during a house robbery. “The man jumped the fence and escaped. It took a while to register what happened,” she says, adding that she was given antiretrovirals and the morning-after pill at a local hospital. 

In October 2017, Khoza left Soweto to go ephehlweni in Hammanskraal, a cultural space where people with an ancestral gift are initiated, and she was trained over five months. When she arrived, the first thing she noticed was how young her gobela looked. He was her age. But when he accurately described a dream she’d had, she believed he was the one to help her hone her ancestral gift. 

Her journey to becoming a traditional healer came at a high price, R70 000. Her father is still paying off the loan from Absa Bank. She was trained alone. After a few weeks, she adapted to her new life, which included a strict diet. At no stage did she feel unsafe around her trainer. She felt they were bonding.

14 September 2019: Andiswa Khoza throwing bones in search of spiritual healing.
14 September 2019: Andiswa Khoza throwing bones in search of spiritual healing.

“He knew about the rape, and I told him I was still attending counselling. He was very understanding at the time. He lived with his mother and brother. His mother was very helpful, so in a way, I kind of felt safe that there is another woman here,” says Khoza. 

But one Friday night in November, her gobela went out with his friends and came back drunk while she was on the phone with her mother. He walked in and asked her to come with him. She did not want to disobey her gobela, so she went to him. 

He offered her sweets, which was a luxury because she was not allowed particular foods while there. She was told that his dlozi (the ancestor[s]) could see marriage for them. She then bought up the trauma she had gone through following her rape during the robbery. 

While facing the gate and being made to perform a ritual, the gobela told her to take off her traditional cloth. She turned and caught his eye. “I felt very uncomfortable, but I thought, you know what, just hang in there, because it is only the second month.” 

On another night, he asked her about certain pictures she had on her social media platforms. He had been drinking. “I could see where the conversation was going, so I asked to go to bed.” She went to bed, and he went to buy more alcohol. 

“He walked in naked and wanted us to do a ritual [that involved sex] to strengthen my ancestral connection, so I explained again about my situation and the counselling I was attending,” she says. He told her there are secrets they should not tell other people. Again, she refused, but he pinned her down, saying, “You have this thing where when I tell you to do something, you think I am asking you. I am not asking you, I am telling you.

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“When he left, he said if I talk, I must know that him and I will be enemies, so I was thinking I don’t even have experience in this cultural practice to protect myself from this person … so I concluded that maybe this was just a one-off,” she says.

Her gobela’s mother noticed a change in her behaviour, but her gobela did not relent. He returned again and again, telling her not to bother sleeping, because he would just wake her up. 

Between November and January, Khoza was abused and raped repeatedly. Her gobela used his knowledge of the ancestral world to wield power over her. She began feeling that she was losing her gift. “I was being compromised spiritually. My dreams stopped coming,” she says. 

He blamed his actions on his dlozi. “He would say, ‘Idlozi doesn’t lie,’” she says.

Whenever she refused to comply, he would beat her. “He pulled me by my hair, my beads tore. That day he was beating me, he was panel-beating me. His mom was watching. He said, ‘Just sit down, lie down there and don’t even attempt to fight back. I will stop when I am tired.’” The gobela’s mother and brother apologised, explaining that they also feared his beatings and temper.

The abuse continues

In February, a month before she left for home, he introduced her to his ancestors as his wife and not as his trainee, which he later tried to extort R35 000 from the family to undo. 

“I decided not to fight with him because I want to leave without him making things difficult for me,” she says. “He raped me in broad daylight … and it went on, like the same pattern as before, but now it was worse, he would even sleep next to me … His response was that he is the gobela, and he makes the rules,” she says. 

On 9 March 2018, Khoza’s family came to fetch her. But their arrival did not stop him from slapping her and then saying she was overtaken by a spirit when she screamed. 

“There was never an apology. There was never an admission [of guilt]. He would be like, ‘At the end of the day, it made you stronger. Your heart is stronger because of that,’” she says. 

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On 8 May, Khoza returned with her mother to try to convince the gobela to undo his introduction of her as his wife to the ancestors. While there, the gobela assaulted her at a tavern before dragging her to his home. He punched her while wearing rings on his fingers. “I remember just bleeding … He took me to the back and his mother was home.”

Khoza was hit with anything he could get his hands on. Through the slit of her bruised eye, she says, “I could see him hitting me but I could not feel any pain anymore. Like I was just lying there.” She rubs the dark marks and scars that remain on her upper arms from that night. Already suffering from broken ribs and internal bleeding, he raped her again. 

Her mother came to fetch her after she managed to contact her while fleeing. They went straight to the police.

Police get involved

She says, “I’ve just been assaulted, raped and the rape kit requires me to lie on my back and open my legs. Like, now I must go through this again?” 

Not being able to recognise herself after that final devastating assault, she came clean to her family on 19 April. She decided to take a stand and lay a charge against the gobela. But he allegedly continued to threaten her, even from jail. 

Khoza has faced a backlash for her allegations, but insists that the people who want to silence her and other women like her turn traditional healing into a cult rather than a cultural practice. 

“I didn’t want anyone to think I was staining [the dignity of traditional healing] by saying my gobela did this to me,” she says. “I’m not speaking out against him as a gobela … I’m speaking against him as a human being. He violated me. Elders think this should be sorted out in that cultural space and not in courts, but this must be aired.”

Sheila Khama, a commissioner at the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious, and Linguistic Communities, was not available for comment, but the chapter nine institution is investigating allegations into sexual violations and abuse in sacred cultural spaces.

Khoza’s case was heard at the Temba magistrate’s court outside Hammanskraal in May 2019 and was postponed in August to 2 October. The suspect is out on bail and Khoza has a protection order against him.

14 September 2019: Andiswa Khoza works from home, where she has a consulting room. Her case against her former trainer was postponed to early October.
14 September 2019: Andiswa Khoza works from home, where she has a consulting room. Her case against her former trainer was postponed to early October.
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