Culture

At Johannes Mashimbi’s Place

Thokozani! Dancing with the Ancestors

Sunday, August 28, 1994

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fter several aborted attempts, arrangements were finally made to go out to Johannes Mashimbi’s place in Mabopane. It would be an afternoon “society”, a private one, no ritual, no dancing, just conversation. I had talked to both Canny and Stiga about this, and they both agreed to come with me. Thabo and I arrived first at Stiga’s place shortly after 11 am, only to discover that he had been called to Mabopane earlier. We were not to see each other that day, as it turned out. I drove over to “Selbourne side”, the westernmost part of town at the time. We stopped by at Aldrin’s place, and he decided to accompany us. We arrived at Canny’s shortly before noon.

Canny immediately offered me a beer, as several others there were sitting calmly enjoying their brew. He told me that several issues would be discussed at Johannes’ society that day. There would be no traditional dress today, just a meal and talk, planning burials, academies, new students, and so forth. As I was later to discover, we were also saying farewell to Johannes’ elder brother, who was dying.

Thabo and Aldrin went off for some sepathlo (township sandwiches of remarkable ingenuity: a quarter loaf of bread, into which is stuffed a sausage or slice of polony, a complete serving of chips, a bit of sharp atchara, and perhaps a bit of tomato/onion garnish – a complete meal). Meanwhile, Canny and Mothabeni (Margaret) readied themselves for our departure. The street was calm, with few groups of people going about their Sunday business: a threesome on their way to church, in white dress, crimson berets and sashes, the ZCC’s (Zionist Christian Church, evangelicals). Two young boys, perhaps 10 or 12 years old, struggled mightily with two wheelbarrows down the street. One had bricks heaped on it, the other cases of beer.

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At Canny’s Place

Thokozani! Dancing with the Ancestors

 June 5, 1994

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had met Bra Canny on the corner of Sekhu and Ramokgopa Streets in Atteridgeville a few days ago. Thabo and Fanie were with me in the car, when Fanie asked if we might stop, as he wanted to speak with “this certain gentleman”. This gentleman was Canny. I got out of the car and we were introduced, striking up a conversation. He invited me to his place for the weekend, to observe a celebration at which two of his students would be subject to ritual examination in the course of their study with him. Canny is a sangoma, a traditional healer, and he also trains others in all aspects of the art and rituals of his calling. He was of robust build, perhaps five-foot-six, mid- to late thirties, with ample limbs, thick neck, and an open face with fiery, quick eyes and a broad enveloping smile. I accepted the intriguing proposal.

Sunday morning, therefore, at about 8:00 am, I arrived at Canny’s place, 5 Chiloane Street, just in time as preparations were in progress for the morning ritual to begin. I should describe the layout of Canny’s place, not only as indicative of the nature of township dwellings, but also to assist in the better understanding of the events which unfolded. The plot itself is about 300-350 square meters in a longish, thin rectangle from the street to the back. The house is at front right, with a bordering strip of ground at front of about 4-5 meters. It is a typical township “matchbox” house of four rooms, living, dining, bed, and kitchen, with a small porch and the front corner. The passageway toward the back is on the left, bordered by the brick wall separating his place from the neighbouring plot. This passageway is about three meters wide, leading to a small open space which is the main area used for dance and ritual.

Read more: At Canny’s Place