The psychology behind the calling


VOICES: A talking snake led to Nomasonto Baloyi-Tsotetsi discovering her calling as a sangoma. Photo: Palesa Tshandu

She was only a teenager when a black snake with a white collar-like stripe around its neck spoke to her. Little did she know this conversation would last a life-time.

“When people would speak to me I would hear voices inside my head,” said Wits Art Museum’s (WAM) administrative assistant Nomasonto Baloyi-Tsotetsi.

Tsotetsi is one of the many sangomas whose ancestral calling can be diagnosed by modern psychologists as schizophrenia.

Clinical psychologist Dr Esther Price confirmed that the symptoms of schizophrenia present themselves in similar ways as the ancestral calling (known as ubizo, when the ancestors call you to perform a particular task)

“Schizophrenia is a debilitating psychological condition where you hear voices,” said Price. She noted that both the “calling” and schizophrenia involved the hearing of voices. However symptoms of schizophrenia are more distinct.

Psychologists often confuse the ancestral calling with schizophrenia as the symptoms present themselves in similar ways, according to a member of the Traditional Healers’ Association and operational manager at the mental illnes hospital, Sterkfontien Hospital, Iris Mahlangu.

“They don’t take us seriously, they classify traditional callings as a ‘culture bound’ syndrome – meaning we are mad”, said Mahlangu.

Senior lecturer at Wits’ School of Community and Human Development Dr Molose Langa disputes the idea that the ancestral calling is a schizophrenic condition. But he does concede that it can be misdiagnosed. Langa confirms that ancestral callings have very little to do with psychology, but suggests that in the past people who had these symptoms would be sent to the mental hospital.

Tsotetsi, 45, has been a traditional healer for more than half her life, spending 17 of those years working in different departments at Wits University. Tsotetsi said her ubizo was confirmed by her grandfather’s friend who had the same calling.

“It was at my grandfather’s funeral when his friend walked up to my grandmother and told her that the snake I had seen and spoken to was not a real snake. It was a snake that was sent by the ancestors”, said Tsotetsi.

“I was scared that the ancestors would kill me and my three children”, said Tsotesti who confi rmed that her divorce may have been a result of the ancestors not wanting her to get married.

Tsotesti was initially angry about being chosen as a traditional healer but has learnt to accept it as part of her life.

VIDEO: In memory of Ruth First

Ruth First, a South African journalist, activist and former Witsie was assassinated 32 years ago, yesterday. Every year, Wits awards a fellowship in her name, to address the need for in-depth reporting on social issues. Wits Vuvuzela spoke to this year’s fellow and others about the impact of the fellowship on communities around the country.


Stirring fears of anti-Semitism

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WHY SO PARANOID? SAUJS member Ido Cohen having an argument with a Wits PSC member over the state of Isreal.                                                                                                                                                                          Photo:Luke Matthews

An e-mail warning Jewish students against alleged violent attacks and anti-Semitic behaviour at Wits University was circulated this week by the South African Union of Jewish students (SAUJS).

“Over the past few days there have been numerous anti-Semitic incidents across the globe arising from the crisis in Israel,” reads the e-mail.

“With the current levels of anti-Semitic rhetoric, we are concerned that actions similar to that seen across the world will take place in South Africa.”

SAUJS, which provides an active voice for the state of Israel on campus, said in the e-mail it was concerned for the safety of its members at Wits and suggested precautionary steps to avoid violent attacks.

SAUJS fears

According to the e-mail, victims of anti-Semitism should get a full description of the perpetrators including “gender, approximate age, race or any other distinguishing features”. The e-mail warned to “not unnecessarily engage in debate or discussion that could become heated”.

It also suggested that students leaving campus at night not walk on their own to their cars.

It also provided an emergency contact list that included the  details of SAUJS chairperson Ariela Carno, vice chair Cayla Urdang and treasurer Natan Pollack, in the event of an anti-Semitic incident.

In a telephonic interview with Wits Vuvuzela, Pollack noted the fears of the organisation about anti-Semitism saying: “It is worrying – it is the ripple effect of what has been happening [globally].”  Pollack added that SAUJS supports the Israeli government’s actions. “We fully stand behind Israel,” he said.

Wits Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) chairperson Shaeera Kalla said SAUJS’s fears are unfounded.

She said there were no reported cases of violent attacks against the Jewish student community on campus.

“We do not have a culture of violence at Wits,” said Kalla.

An international issue

The concern for the safety of Jewish students on campus comes after the ground invasion of the Gaza strip by the Israeli military last week.

Prof Steven Friedman of the University of Johannesburg criticised the e-mail and said it creates an unnecessary panic among Jewish students as it confuses two different issues: protests against Israel and anti-Semitism.

“What we have seen recently is expressions of anger at the Israeli state.

“This is not anti-Semitism: many Jews have participated in the protests. Nor is it a threat to the personal safety of Jewish students,” said Friedman.

“The e-mail is no accident. Supporters of the Israeli government’s actions always try to whip up the fear of anti-Semitism in an attempt to drive all Jews into the Israeli government camp,” he said.

A student concern

A Wits Jewish student, who did not want to be identified, has had no personal experience of anti-Semitism at Wits but said they understood the fears of students who are outspoken and in support of Israel.

PSC treasurer Alex Freeman said the e-mail is an attempt to portray the Jewish student community as victims whilst undermining the struggle of the people of Palestine.

Vice Chancellor Adam Habib called Wits “a safe place for articulation of all ideas” and said if there were rumours of anti-Semitism they should be reported to the dean of students.

“If anyone at Wits is complicit in threatening the security of another, we will take the firmest action possible,” said Habib.






Wits adds its voice to #BringBackOurGirls campaign

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SOLIDARITY: Students at Wits University show their support for the missing Nigerian schoolgirls. Photo: Anazi Zote

It has been just over a month since more than 200 girls were abducted from a school in Nigeria and today Wits University added its voice to the international show of support.

About 50 Wits students gathered on the library lawns as part of an art-based solidarity campaign.

Today’s gathering was part of the broader initiative known as #BringBackOurGirls, which advocates for the release of the girls from Boko Haram, a terrorist group which has claimed responsibility for the abductions. The event made use of various art forms such as hand painting and the spoken word to communicate messages of protest.

Wits Amnesty International president at Bambi Stewart said: “The campaign started just under a month ago in Nigeria and we as collective university students, decided to come and show support for the girls.”

[pullquote] “We as Africans in the continent are saying lets come together lets help countries like Nigeria put a stop to such inhumanity”[/pullquote]

Stewart said that Wits University has an important role to play in raising awareness: “More girls have become weaponized (sic) and tools of war, we think that its time as a university we raise our voice as a collective, irrespective of political affiliations or religion”.

The campaign was convened by Dluwadamiloa Apotieri Abdielai, a masters student, who says that the said there is a culture of silence in Nigeria and it is problematic because, “Whatever is happening in Nigeria is happening in several other countries, but people are not talking about it.”

Nigerian community speaks out

The Nigerian diasporic community was also present at the campaign to show their support and disdain for the lack of action towards the Nigerian government towards finding the girls.

Gloria Ernest Samuel who is a PhD fellow from Imo State in Nigeria said, “If the government had done enough, we wouldn’t be here and that is part of why we are supporting the campaign”.


Striking miners should have a fund: expert

Ian Macun, director of collective bargaining at the Department of Labour and Advocate Geoff Budlender were two of the panelists at Wits yesterday

Ian Macun, director of collective bargaining at the Department of Labour and Advocate Geoff Budlender were two of the panelists at Wits yesterday. Photo: Lutho Mtongana

A strike fund from trade unions should be a prerequisite for striking miners to maintain their basic living conditions, according to the dean of humanities at the University of Cape Town, Prof Sakhela Buhlungu.

“Levels of desperation kick in immediately after going on strike,” said Buhlungu.  He emphasised the plight of mine workers who bear the repercussions of not earning salaries for the duration of a strike.

Buhlungu was one of three panelists speaking at at panel discussion hosted on the Marikana commission of inquiry held at Wits on Monday afternoon. Family members of the victims of Marikana were also present at the panel discussion.

The panel was the first of a three-part seminar, held by the Marikana commission. Open to public for the first time since investigations into the deaths of 34 Lonmin miners in August 2012 began, the seminar included members of the commission and other parties involved.

Department of labour spokesperson Ian Macum said many workers were dissatisfied.

[pullquote]The worrying trend in the post-Marikana era is that there has no been greater consensus that the law does not offer solutions to bypassing situations[/pullquote]

“Dissatisfaction can have a number of causes, which thread the problems that face trade unions”, said Macun.

Subcontracted workers enjoy substandard conditions at the mines, which triggers  discontent among workers. However, full-time workers also endure extreme conditions but for lesser pay, Macun suggested

The rivalry between the National Union of Mineworkers and Association of Mineworkers Construction Union shows that the unions have been unsuccessful in maintaining confidence among their workers, suggested Macun.

He said the prevalence of dissent results in conflict among trade unions and contributes to the loss of law and order.

The panelists said the issues of workers bypassing the trade unions showed the flaws that are present in the system.

“The worrying trend in the post-Marikana era is that there has no been greater consensus that the law does not offer solutions to bypassing situations,” said  Macun.

On April 9, the commission will host its second seminar focusing on labour migrancy, and its third will be hosted on April 16, focusing on strike violence.