04 July 2022 | Story Edzani Nephalela | Photo Edzani Nephalela
Faculty of Theology and Religion
From left to right: Dr Joel Mokhoathi, Ronel Ellis, Dr Nomfundo Mlisa, Prof Pieter Vester and Rev Jacob Makhutso

Growing up, many of us were raised in Christian homes practising specific morals and values, and anything outside of that was considered immoral or even ‘demonic’. However, what happens when you have a dual identity, and you embrace a bit of both?

On 29 June 2022, the University of the Free State Faculty of Theology presented a Table Talk Webinar with Dr Nomfundo Mlisa, titled ‘African Christianity: interconnections between religion, culture, and identity’. These webinars cover a variety of burning topics that deal with contentious issues across the country. Attendees emerged from various parts of the world, including Nigeria and Germany.

Dr Mlisa is a published author, qualified nurse, traditional healer, as well as preacher of the Word. Her talk was based on personal experiences of being Xhosa and being brought up as a member of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa in a strict Christian environment. She was on her journey to becoming a preacher when she realised that she needed to undergo the spiritual healing training (ukhuthwasa) and was faced with resistance from the church minister/s, forcing her to leave church because ukuthwasa was against the church policies.

Her journey has been challenging, because she only acknowledged her ancestral calling at the age of 42, following a series of occurrences that nearly cost her her children. Dr Mlisa hinted that, besides being against church policy, one of the reasons was that the Xhosa nation considered ukhuthwasa to be witchcraft due to the similarity in the pronunciation of words: ukhuthwasa, meaning undergoing spiritual training; ukuthwala, which is an ancient activity of gaining powers for wealth; and ukhuthakatha, meaning witchcraft.

“Rev Mabusela of the Methodist Church invited me back to the church and I was ordained as a reverend. However, my ordination was held at the East London Correctional Services, and it was then that I realised I was a prisoner of faith and tradition,” she said.

Is there a link between ukuthwasa and Christianity?

Besides the fact that philosophy could not prove the linkage, Dr Mlisa said that the link exists, but Christianity has strongly influenced Africans to integrate Christian values into their cultural value systems, as evidenced by various authors. This led to various people with spiritual calling disowning their cultural identities as well as their being.

“In Christianity, there are faith healers and prophets, whereas culturally, we have traditional healers; however, they have one objective, which is to heal the people. But because people wanted to accommodate their gifts in Christianity, such names were given. Furthermore, Christians recognise angels, while traditionally, ancestors are recognised,” she explained.

Looking into different practices in both the Traditional and Christian religions, they both have elements of training, ‘ukhuthwasa’. This is mainly because they all undergo different types of training under a senior person. A senior faith healer trains a junior, whereas a ‘gobela’ trains a traditional healer.

The society is also coming to accept all religions, with most people now wearing traditional healer beads everywhere, including work. There are also traditional healers who are modern doctors, demonstrating that these innate or hereditary abilities are a common language.

We use cookies to make interactions with our websites and services easy and meaningful. To better understand how they are used, read more about the UFS cookie policy. By continuing to use this site you are giving us your consent to do this.