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The Swazi Hex

Story ID:3078
Written by:John Ward (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Family History
Writers Conference:$500 2007 Family Memories Writing Project
Location:Manzini Swaziland
Person:Sipho Mzimela
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The Swazi Hex

Until 1968 Swaziland was a British Protectorate. Our King was referred to as “Paramount Chief” since he was subject to British rule and law, but we were determined to obtain our independence. When we turned to the Crown and demanded our independence we were surprised to find that England was only too pleased to grant it. We were thrilled and in September of that year, Swaziland was an independent, sovereign nation. The King became head of state and would become, in fact, the longest reigning monarch in the world, having ruled as Paramount Chief from 1899 to 1968 and King from 1968 to 1982. His name was Sobhuza II. He was a wise, well educated and compassionate man. He maintained Swazi traditions where possible, but he also incurred the wrath of his people when he refused to continue certain traditions he found barbaric or unnecessarily cruel. This was an extremely brave position to take and earned him the resentment of traditionalists and the respect of the progressives.

In the 1960s everyone assumed that the only racism in existence was that of white people towards people of every other color. The fact is we Swazis harbored quite an intense hatred of Zulus. The Zulus had been enemies of the Swazis for many years. There were many battles over stolen cattle and women and since we are an inguni people, the theft of cattle was an extreme offence. Although a thing of the distant past, this traditional animosity made life for any Zulu, who moved to live and work in Swaziland, very difficult.

One morning my Uncle, Italo Taranto, arrived at the family business and found the twenty ton truck had not left to make building material deliveries. It stood in the yard with its motor running and the driver’s door open.

“Mabuza” he called “why is the lorry not out yet? Where’s Sipho?”

“The truck is hexed inkosi!” said Mabuza, “We cannot go near it and Sipho is dying sir.”

“What?” demanded my incredulous Uncle, “What are you talking about? What hex?”

“Just look inkosi, look at the powder!”

Italo went nearer the truck and saw a ring of white powder all around the truck. “This is just flour or something, it can’t hurt you.”

“No Inkosi, that is bad magic, we cannot cross the line. When Sipho crossed it he fell out of the truck and now he cannot breathe!”

Italo was amazed. “Look Mabuza I am going to cross the line, nothing will happen to me” and with, what he admitted later was, a slight shiver he crossed the line as boldly as he could. “You see? Nothing happened to me. This is nonsense.”

“No Inkosi, the magic does not affect mlungu, it is only for us. If I cross it, I will die!”
Italo was frustrated. “OK look, I’ll do the deliveries this morning, but I want to check on Sipho first. Let me move the truck and you can clean the powder… oh forget it, I’ll do it.” The look in Mabuza’s eyes was enough to confirm that Italo would be doing the powder removal.

My father had been called and was examining Sipho. “What happened?” he asked.

“He has been hexed by some black magic” said one of the employees standing around poor Sipho. “He cannot walk and he is having trouble breathing.” My father beckoned the speaker out of Sipho’s line of sight.

“What’s this all about? Why has he been hexed and by whom?” he asked.

“Please sir, don’t tell anyone I told you, but Sipho is a Zulu and there are some Swazis here who don’t think he should be working at the warehouse. They went to a witch doctor and he made the muti that will kill him.”

“What is your name?”

“Matsebula inkosi.”

“Matsebula, I am going to take Sipho to the doctor and have him checked out. I want to know who did this to him.”

“You can never find out inkosi, they will not say. No-one will speak because they are afraid of the others.”

My father had heard of this before; ritual murder, voodoo and hexes were often spoken of in the early history of independent Swaziland. A friend called Andreas Ginindza told us his cousin had been hexed for stealing a chicken out of a man’s yard. The man took some of the feathers to a local witch doctor who performed some mystical procedure using the feathers and Andreas’ cousin swelled up and died within two weeks. It was confirmation of the power of suggestion.

My father had poor Sipho taken to our family doctor, Dr. Brocklehurst, an outrageously British individual with an Oxford English accent that was so pronounced it practically obliterated the meaning of his words. He had an RAF handlebar moustache and smoked incessantly. Despite his many idiosyncrasies he was a very accomplished general practitioner and a decent man, well trusted by the community.

“Yes… yes… no... Nope, cawn’t find a ruddy thing wrong with the man this is beyond me!” Brocklehurst said as he finished a fairly extensive examination of Sipho. By this time Sipho’s breathing had become terribly labored and he was completely paralyzed from the waist down. He was lying in just his underpants on Dr. Brocklehurst’s examination bed and the gurney they had used to bring him in was standing in the corner. My father realized that he had to do something quickly. The man’s eyes were bugged out and he was approaching panic. So he said to Brocklehurst: “I’ll show you what’s wrong, watch this.” He could not find anything to swing back and forth in front of Sipho’s eyes, so he took one of Dr. Brocklehurst’s pencils from an old tray and said to Sipho: “Watch the middle of the pencil Sipho… watch how it turns… you see the light catching every plane? Do you see how it dips and rises? Watch the pencil Sipho as it turns in my fingers… You are feeling tired, you are very tired….” and in about a minute Sipho was under hypnosis.

When Sipho was deeply asleep my father said: “Sipho, you are asleep, but you can hear my voice. You have been infected by a very bad demon, a tokolosh, but I have a muti that is stronger than any demon. I will fix your legs and your body.” With that he took a bottle of Methylated Spirits and poured some on a cotton swab. He ran the swab over Sipho’s legs one at a time saying: “The cold you feel, where I have put the muti, is the evil demon leaving your legs.” He rubbed some on Sipho’s stomach and chest and said: “That is the demon leaving your upper body. Your lungs are now clean and free of the demon.” Then, to make sure it would not happen to the man again he said: “I will now put this muti in a small bottle that you must wear around your neck at all times. As long as you wear the muti around your neck, you will be safe!” A small amount of the Methylated Spirits was poured into a miniature vial and a string attached to that. My father tied the string around Sipho’s sleeping neck and counted back from ten to one waking the man slowly.

Dr. Brocklehurst was unusually quiet and completely astonished by the whole thing. He knew that three of my father’s brothers were medical men, but he didn’t know the extent of their training nor that they had incorporated every medical discipline in their studies at Trinity College, Dublin. He also didn’t know that my father had been an integral part of their homework and knew more than a most laymen about medicine.

As Sipho awoke and began to sit up, Brocklehurst’s eyes grew wide. The man seemed to be breathing easier and when he got to his feet, Dr. Brocklehurst nearly fell over. He had been completely paralyzed with no feeling whatsoever, which Brocklehurst had tested with a needle!

Sipho was a little stiff at first, but in a few minutes was completely ambulatory and walked out of the office without any support at all.

“Well, we did it! By Jove, between us we cured that man.” said Dr. Brocklehurst to my father.

The months passed and powder sprinkles around the company lorry had no affect on poor Sipho so about six months later, someone put an assegai through his liver and that terminated Sipho’s immigration status. Sipho’s death was a great loss to the company and my family. He had been a good and reliable driver and a friend. Additionally my parents could never hire another Zulu for fear that his life would be in danger.

Subsequently, a great medical doctor, Dr. Joseph Jivuvu, came to live in Swaziland in the 1970s. He was a Zulu who stood about six feet and five inches and weighed about two hundred and fifty pounds. He had a very impressive presence. He was highly educated and capable, a man who proved himself a talented and trustworthy doctor and who displayed the trappings of his success in the form of a beautiful wife and family, a nice house, a Mercedes, a Jaguar and a burgeoning medical practice. His life was made so difficult that he was forced to leave and Manzini lost a great doctor.

Unfortunately for all of us, prejudice and racism are not limited to the European races. It exists everywhere and is an integral part of many cultures. The Sunnis hate the Kurds, the Hutus hate the Tutsis, the Arabs hate the Jews and vice versa. There is an elaborate caste system in India that will not allow inter-caste marriages and in Japan there is an “untouchable” caste called the “Burakumin.”

Just as Canada does not hold the American invasion of their soil in 1812 against the US and the US doesn’t hold the War of independence against Britain the world must forget the sins of the past and move forward, if there is ever going to be any chance of a peaceful future.