Sangomas with ring lights: Zimbabwe’s traditional healers take to TikTok

5 Jul 2024

A traditional healer does an online consultation with a client [File: Guillem Sartorio/AFP]

Wearing a stylish black leather jacket and a red blouse, a denim sun hat covering her dreadlocked head, Gogo Mafirakureva goes live on TikTok.

  • In just the first few minutes of her livestream, almost 1,000 people join in.

A traditional song plays from a stereo while she puts on colourful beads and sniffs tobacco snuff – a grounded African tobacco that sangomas, or Southern African traditional healers like her, regularly use.


“Gogo, I have a problem,” a guest on the livestream says.


In Zimbabwe’s Shona culture, when a person gets a spiritual calling from their ancestors to be a healer and accepts, they are initiated as a sangoma, taking on the honorific “Gogo” (grandmother) if they are female, or “Sekuru” (grandfather) if they are male.


“Gogo … I am being forgetful and I have exams coming up. I want your help,” the guest continues.


But Mafirakureva, streaming from her living room in the United Kingdom where she currently lives, is awaiting the spirit of her late great-grandfather to arrive and speak to her.


“Let us wait for his arrival when he comes, he will attend to it,” she says.

According to traditional beliefs, sangomas play a crucial role by acting as intermediaries between the spiritual and physical realms.


It is generally believed that when they connect with their ancestors, spirits or deities take control, allowing them to communicate messages, diagnose ailments, and perform healing practices. This spiritual possession is typically induced by rhythmic drumming, chanting, mbira music and dancing, which helps the healer enter a trance-like state.


A Zimbabwean traditional healer

Thousands of people consult Gogo Mafirakureva on TikTok [Screengrab/Al Jazeera]

In Zimbabwe, there are some 65,000 sangomas. Like neighbouring countries, including South Africa, traditional healers are often the first port of call for many seeking help with physical and spiritual ailments.