Using Muti for ‘Protection’

Recently a photo appeared on social media of a car outlined in white chalk with a clay pot placed at one end, and a gourd on the car’s aerial. The story that accompanied the photo said that the driver had broken down, and for fear that his car would be stripped of its tyres by the morning (which is when he would be able to get the car towed or fixed), he made up his own ‘muti’ to protect it during the night. The logic was that even if it wasn’t the real thing, the appearance of muti would be enough to keep the thieves away!

A car with home-made 'muti' for protection
A car with home-made ‘muti’ for protection

While some people have thought the idea funny, there are many others who believe in the power of traditional medicine or spells to keep either them or their belongings safe – even thieves it seems! A story was reported in the Sunday Times a few years ago about some car jackers who, when they were arrested in Groutville, were found to have a skull in their possession. Inside the skull was a piece of meat, which they explained was food for a tokolosh that they thought was protecting them.

Some of the more unscrupulous sangomas have also admitted to performing rituals to protect criminals. While the Traditional Healers’ Association of South Africa considers such practices illegal, many say that it is now common place. Supposedly a small incision is made at the top of the patient’s head and muti is inserted into the cut. In some cases, a pumpkin is also prepared, with the remainder of the muti being emptied into the vegetable through a small opening at the top, which is then closed with the pumpkin ‘lid’. Criminals, who believe that the vegetable speaks to them, look to the pumpkin for guidance on how best to execute the crime. Accessories, such as jewellery, a red or green woollen string (worn on the wrist or waist), a small bottle on a string worn around the neck, or a band for the upper arm, are also sometimes given to clients to keep them safe from the police.

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