This gay ballet dancer’s struggle with his sangoma calling


Zuko Mnukwa, a gay ballet dancer and sangoma

Callings to pursue destinies of helping others arise in many people in many ways. Some choose to embark on their journey through modern and “western” education while others follow a more traditional cultural route. In some cases, those who pursue these paths may feel they are not given much of a choice.

Take Zuko Mnukwa, a 27-year-old from Cape Town who says his calling to become a sangoma (a traditional healer) caused him to sacrifice his dream of dancing ballet, resulting in him having a love-hate relationship with his spiritual vocation. He also says that having to deal with the scrutiny of being a gay sangoma further made his life more challenging.

Mnukwa opened up to MambaOnline to reveal how ignoring his calling for a long time almost cost him his life and how he continues to struggle to embrace his destiny.

I was born with the calling but I was unaware of it. A calling is not something you grow into, it’s something you are born with. When I was growing up, I was always bothered by these dreams but would ignore them and not tell anyone because I thought they were just nightmares.

I remember when I was six-years-old, seeing this sangoma who used to constantly come to my house requesting to see me. They would tell my family that I had a calling, but because I was young, my parents would tell the sangoma that it wasn’t possible because I was still a child. My mother also had a calling but wouldn’t accept it. As a result, she ended up taking ill, despite going to church to seek help. This illness never went away [and continued] until she passed away.

Fast forward to when I was 19-years old, in 2011, and a professional ballet dancer. Ballet was my first love. I loved it and I still do. It was at this time when my calling revealed itself. I started falling ill to the point where I couldn’t move or do anything. I was in and out of hospital and doctors couldn’t detect what was wrong with me. I would just lay there, unable to do anything, not even speak, yet my brain was still functional.

I was scared that I would never find love again

While I was lying there, I was having these conversations with these old people; people I’ve never seen before in my life. I remember also seeing my mother in my dreams and these elders were begging my mother to allow me to accept the calling. I didn’t believe in such traditional things. I thought it was witchcraft. I was also experimenting with cocaine back then, so I also thought maybe it was the cocaine getting to my head and driving me crazy. But these dreams and voices continued even after I stopped using cocaine.

After fighting and fighting with these voices in my head, I got tired and said I would agree to the calling. The next day, I woke up and was able to talk and move again. The dreams with the dead elders had stopped but I kept on seeing this old man, either in our yard at home or when I was walking in town. It felt like he was stalking me. It was after only after I had a car accident in December 2014 that I decided to take this calling seriously, as I had told my elders in my dream I would. The elders in my dreams then instructed me on what I needed to do and where I needed to go and who I needed to see, of which I did all of that.

After all of this, my ballet career was thrown out the window. I now had fears of how people were going to look at me and the stigma of being a sangoma. I was scared that I would never find love again because no man would want to date me now. I came across a lot of people who would tell me that I couldn’t be gay and a sangoma. This is where the love-hate relationship started. But this was mainly based on my own ignorance.

My calling affirmed my self-esteem and [helped me] to accept myself. But at the same time, I still couldn’t understand why ballet was taken from me. Ballet was my gift, not my calling. With ballet, I had a choice but I felt like [being a sangoma] was forced on me.

A lot of us [femme] gay people are quite visible to the public because everything we do is always looked at and scrutinised. When I learned who I was, I saw people who saw fit to lash out at me as opportunities to educate them and tell them that a calling doesn’t choose you based on your gender or sexuality.

I do believe that this happened for a reason, despite still being confused. I am now in the process of taking courses to understand the psychology of healing so I can be versed and well-rounded. But I am giving myself time. I believe I have a greater purpose.

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