Siyanda Jaceni tells us about his journey of discovery to find his calling, and his struggle to balance his school life with his gift of healing.
Siyanda (16) was born in Philippi, Cape Town as the third child of a domestic worker and a welder. Siyanda recalls “One of my first memories was when I was two, and running out of the house crying for help. My father was beating my sisters and my mom, so a neighbor took me in and asked for assistance from community members to go into the house and stop my father.”
Domestic violence in Siyanda’s house was the norm and after this incident Siyanda’s mother decided to move him to the Eastern Cape. “My mom decided to send me to the Eastern Cape to protect me. I moved in with my aunt and her five children (her two sons and three grandchildren). Even though my mom visited twice a year, my aunt became like a mother to me.”
Siyanda grew up to become a favorite in his community, especially to the adults in his church. “I used to go to church often, be involved in Sunday school and be part of the choir. I was a happy child who spent a lot of time with adults. I accepted the situation at home and knew that my auntie’s house was a better place for me.”
At the age of eight, Siyanda started having dreams associated with traditional healers (sangomas). “I used to have dreams about sangomas dressed in white, near a big dam. They were singing and beating drums.”
“I would tell my auntie about my dreams and she would say that they were bad spirits and we needed to pray about it. The she would pray with me but I was confused, I could not understand why we were praying. In my mind I thought they were only dreams, not reality.”
In the months to follow, Siyanda developed a deep fear for sangomas. “Every time I saw a sangoma on the street, I used to be afraid and have flashbacks about my dreams, and I would run home. I developed this belief that they would take me away and drown me in the dam”
Later, when Siyanda was nine, his first vision happened. “I was taking care of the cattle with my friends in the forest when I saw a sangoma in the distance digging the soil and looking for roots. I asked my friends, ‘do you see the sangoma over there?’ They told me there was no one there, and that I must be dreaming. I insisted and decided to prove them wrong. I walked in the direction of the sangoma only to find out that no one was there. When I went back home I told my auntie and she told me the bad spirits were getting worse. She decided to take me to the church and asked the pastor to pray for me.”
The pastor told Siyanda’s aunt that there was no need to pray, and that he had had a dream about Siyanda: Siyanda had been given a gift and she should not worry about it. Not happy with the pastor’s answer, Siyanda’s aunt dragged him back home.
Life carried on as usual and when Siyanda was ten, he received his second vision. “This day, I woke up feeling different. I thought I might be getting sick and I told my aunt I did not feel well and I wanted to stay at home. After a few hours, I stood up and went to the kitchen to prepare something to eat. I had a vision where I saw my mom covered in blood. I awoke with my auntie throwing water on my face. She told me what had happened, ‘I tried to wake you but you didn’t come round’ I told her what I saw and we prayed together.”
After a few minutes the phone rang and Siyanda’s aunt was informed that Siyanda’s father had stabbed his mom. She had survived, but she was in a critical condition in hospital. Siyanda’s aunt kept the information secret from Siyanda, so as to protect him.
“A few weeks later, I was at home with my aunt and she told me what had happened to my mom. I remembered feeling shocked, I felt like I was a bad person. I thought it was my fault: I had seen it but I did not warn my mom. I ran out of the house and into the forest crying. After some time I heard sounds, as if the nearby river had waves like the sea, and in between the sound of the waves I kept hearing the word ‘HOPE’. Again, I became so scared that I ran back home. I went straight to bed and cried myself to sleep.”
Things changed a lot when Siyanda’s mom divorced his dad and decided that it was time for Siyanda to come back home.
“I was so excited, it felt as if I was going overseas, staying with my mom in a big city. My mom had moved to Barcelona (an area of Gugulethu). I recall arriving in the community and for the first time seeing shacks. Back in the Eastern Cape I lived in a house, so I asked my mom, ‘do people live inside these small things?’ She laughed and told me that ‘not just people but our family’ lives in a shack.”
Siyanda adapted quickly to living in a small shack, consisting of two rooms, with his mom and two sisters. He joined a primary school in the area, became part of the school choir and made a few new friends. He became a top student and life was good.
But Siyanda’s dreams and visions did not stop, and they often came to him when he was at church and at school. In Grade 9 when I was 15, I was in church and they were playing drums. I felt the drums were beating inside of me. I could hear my heart racing. Out of the blue, I jumped and cried, and my pastor grabbed me and prayed for me to calm down. I was afraid and ashamed – what would people think about me? They probably would think I was mad or possessed by demons.”
“On another occasion I was in class at school and I started hearing a song outside. The door opened, and I saw sangomas entering the classroom singing and drumming. I looked around and my teacher and colleagues were gone, there was no one in the room, only my chair and me. The sangomas surrounded me and one of them told me, ‘you must listen to us.’ Suddenly they disappeared, I looked around and my teacher and classmates were back looking at me strangely. I was seated on the floor and my teacher asked me what had happened. They took me home and told my mom. She was so scared so she took me to see a sangoma in Khayelitsha. He confirmed that I had a gift and that I needed to listen to the old people in order for the gift to materialize. He said that is what they were trying to tell me.”
Despite this news from the sangoma, things got more and more difficult for Siyanda as he continued to have visions and struggled to fit in with those around him. “It was tough times, as my peers would tease me and I felt hurt and alone. They would point to me and call me the ‘crazy one’. I couldn’t comprehend what was happening to me.”
“I was taken to church. I belong to the Zion Christian Church. They put some ropes around my arms and I felt better. But after this, people became afraid of me. I kept repeating ‘I am not a sangoma, you do not know what has happened to me.’ I would get angry and believe this was evil. I would shout at God: ‘why are you punishing me? I am young, I have not hurt anyone, why are you doing this to me?’”
After wearing the ropes, Siyanda stopped having visions at school. ‘I thought God had heard me. I kept having dreams at night, but because I was at home I did not mind. The dreams changed, now I was dreaming of myself dressing as a sangoma in the middle of cows and goats.”
Siyanda’s mother, who could see how the situation perturbed him, then shared a secret with him.
“My mom used to cry. She knew what was happening to me because her dad was a sangoma. In African tradition this kind of gift is passed through family lineage, so she knew that there was a chance that her child or grandchild would be called by her ancestors. However, she was worried because I was too young.”
Knowing that it had been passed on to him by his grandfather, and with reassurance from people around him, Siyanda began to accept his gift.
“ In church, people told me that I had been given a gift by God to heal other people. My gift was a blessing to do good for others and not a curse. I started accepting what was happening to me, only because people told me I would be good.’
Then, one day, after Siyanda had had the same dream five times, his mom took him to see a famous sangoma in Lusuko.
“When we entered his place I recognized him. He was the man in my dreams. He started laughing and told me to sit next to him on the mat on the floor. He pointed to my family and told me that I should consult them. I told him ‘I can’t, I don’t know how’. He laughed, told me that he had been waiting for me and that he was my healer. Afterwards, he described every single dream and vision I had had since I was young. He told us that I needed to have a ceremony to ask my ancestors to allow me to finish school and for me to be able to listen to them clearly.”
The ceremony that followed represented the first stage of Siyanda becoming a sangoma.
“I was nervous; I was going to be initiated into something I hardly understood. Traditional healers came from everywhere, they covered me with a blanket and I could hardly see anything. I remember being taken into a room with the old healers, together with the apprentices. They were using different herbs and my clan herb. They also used four white chickens, each slaughtered as a blessing to me. They asked for me to be cleansed of all bad spirits and to have a clean road as a sangoma. They asked for my gift to be awakened. They asked for my beads to be blessed, a sign of my status as a sangoma, and for the ancestors to see and communicate with me easily. They asked for my ancestors to reunite with my healer’s ancestors.”
“They took me to a room and gave me beads and a skirt (sangoma cloth). I asked, ‘am I becoming a woman, why do I need to wear a skirt?’ They laughed. Even today, I still can’t understand. They covered my face with white powder and we danced all night. In the morning, my healer gave me a sangoma name as a symbol that I was being born again. My name is Jongithemba, meaning ‘we are seeking hope in you.’”
“I am learning little by little how to control my visions and keep calm. I am in Grade 11 and I am a top student in my class. I wish to go to university and study fashion design.”
“My healer told me that he had a dream where I would be dropping out of school to heal people. Some days I am called to work with people and even if I try to go to school I get weak on the way and I am forced to turn back and work with people. I plead to my ancestors everyday to wait for me to finish my studies, afterwards I will serve them and heal people. Things are getting more difficult but I am convinced I will manage my gift and my studies if I keep focused.”
When asked what lesson he would like to share, Siyanda said: “I believe everyone has a purpose in life. Sometimes it is not in the package we have imagined it to be. When things happen to you, accept that there is a particular reason for that. Accept what life gives you, because only through acceptance will you be able to truly find out who you really are.”
Siyanda is a Leaders’ Quest participant.