Road to Mangaung: Let Zuma commune with dead spirits in peace

The Times Magazine of South Africa reported that President Jacob Zuma’s family slaughtered 12 cows in a traditional ritual to help him keep his job.

A local clan elder told the magazine that they were appeasing the ancestors to protect Zuma from those who were opposing him.

Given that the Manguang Conference comes at a time when President Zuma’s popularity was waning, with some of his former supporters, including expelled ANC youth leader Julius Malema, openly calling for his removal, perhaps he needed the help of his ancestors.

The country has just witnessed deadly mining and farming labour unrest and Zuma has also been dragged under the bus for running down the economy, owing to growing unemployment, credit rating downgrades and a weakening rand.

The $28 million upgrade of his Nkandla (rural home) allegedly using taxpayer’s money has also come under scrutiny with the Opposition Democratic Alliance Party led by former Cape Town Mayor Helen Zille having a field day with it, not to mention other corruption allegations.

With all these at stake, perhaps Zuma’s ancestors would clear the path for him, though political analysts believe he was likely to retain his seat despite serious questions on his leadership.

Being a traditionalist to the core, the cow ceremony could be his way of roping in the Zulu ethnic support for his bid.

However, what has caught my attention are some of the demeaning comments like calling Zuma primitive and ignorant.

But why ancestors?

A study by The Lutheran World on Ancestors and Healing in African Spirituality points out that they were “departed” parents, members of a family or a clan who maintained relationships and care of the living.

Supernatural abilities

It also states that they had supernatural abilities since they no longer experienced the limitations of human beings, thus were able to mediate between the creator and the living.

Renown Kenya religious philosopher John S. Mbiti; in his Concepts of God in Africa; says deceased ancestors were considered indispensable intermediaries between living beings and God.

Other authors like Charles Nyamiti state that ancestor were believed to enjoy sacred super-human status, with special magico-religious powers that could be beneficial or even harmful to their earthly kin.

This is why most people turned to them.

I will give a few examples to show that Zuma was not alone when it came to such rituals; they were performed the world over.

In February this year, Malawi minister of Lands Yunus Mussa, shaken by a prophecy by Nigerian prophet TB Joshua that one of Africa’s old presidents might die, stepped in to offer a sacrifice of three goats to God to spare President Bingu wa Mutharika’s life. Looks like the ancestors were not appeased, because two months later, Mutharika died.

Moreover, if you thought that it was only in Africa where people had strong links with ancestors, then think again. Reports have it that even some white leaders had embraced different rituals, starting with Bohemian Grove.

These leaders believed in magic, sacred rituals to seek protection as they viewed the world as a place full of spells, spirits, omens and other strong forces, which were beyond them.

In 2009, the Mail and Guardian reported that the US had not been left out when it came to performing rituals, ranging from hanging out the stars and stripes on Memorial Day, to tying yellow ribbons round trees for the troops in Iraq, to front-porch skeletons on Hallowe’en.

I do not know if dead spirits can make certain reptiles grow in people's stomachs, neither can I ascertain if they were capable of making some red lights flash out of people's eyes, but Zuma is free to commune with his ancestors, whether he clinches the seat or not, since religion was a personal choice.

Email: Twitter: @JanetOtieno

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