Nurse Quits Job, Becomes A Sangoma
22 May 2021

By A Correspondent- Waking up chained to the small hospital bed, after eight days in a coma, Mrs Sobongile Sokani, better known as Mbuya Soko, in the spiritual realm, watched as the body of the person on the next bed was being wrapped up for the mortuary.
She remembered that in her dream, just before she woke up, her paternal grandfather and aunt, who are both late, had told her to go back the “right path or risk being handled in the same manner”.
Just as she was still adjusting to the sight, a supernatural force turned her head towards the wall where she saw a blue dish, some black and white pieces of cloth, a small sceptre and a snuff bottle that she recognised so well.
These were the same paraphernalia that she had thrown into the sea the day she later lost consciousness.
They were the reason she was in the hospital.
Her ancestors were angry that she had ignored her calling to become a traditional healer and pursued her work as a pastor.
For them to forgive her, she had to answer the call and serve her punishment.
And she has been paying for the past 10 years.
Mbuya Soko is now one of the famous traditional healers in Harare. She gave up her job as a gynaecologist in the Non-Governmental Organisation sector, relocated her family back to Harare and has dedicated her life to ‘serving the nation’ as she calls it.
Sitting in the corner of the small room she operates from in Mufakose, the diminutive Mbuya Soko laughs easily as she tells the story of how she became a traditional healer.
“My journey has been long but for me to be here, I finally answered the call to go and serve my nation,” she said
Born on June 1, 1978, Mbuya Soko was the complete opposite of her identical twin sister. Although they had similar features, she was a sickly child but extraordinarily intelligent.
“I was so intelligent that I would solve difficult mathematics problems that many adults could not and my teachers even facilitated for me to skip some grades.
“Growing up, I knew I was different but my family never suspected anything until I was in Grade 7. Five of us shared a room and we would share blankets. In the morning, I would wake up totally wet from head to toe while the person next to me was dry,” she said.
Her parents did not think it had anything to do with traditional beliefs because everyone in her family, except for her father, was a member of the Johane Masowe Apostolic Church.
So they took her to another apostolic church to get help.
They were told that she was possessed by the spirit of her dead aunt that needed to be exorcised.
“The VaPostori prayed for me and shook my head so hard that my neck would be painful at the end of that session. That was torture and at some point, I started pretending that the spirit was manifesting in me just so I could get some relief. But the queer happenings would just stop for a few months and start again,” said Mbuya Soko.
After some time, her father called some spirit mediums and held a bira at their house to try and appease the spirits that were troubling her.
She and her siblings innocently joined in dancing to the drums and one of the mediums identified her and told her family that a great spirit of the river possessed her.
“When they sprinkled some water on me, something happened. They told me that I started writhing on the ground and speaking in a different voice. The mediums asked for my spirit to calm down and allow me to grow up. For sure, everything went back to normal and I started going to school,” she added.
The mediums gave her the pouch, a black cloth, a white one and a small sceptre and told her to apply the snuff on her forehead if she started seeing or hearing things.
When she was in Form 3, the voices came back stronger and her mother took her to a traditional healer in their rural home Rusape, who took her to Zambe pool along Macheke river to ask the spirits again to give her more time to grow.
For sure, she finished her A’ Level and started her nursing programme with the Red Cross Society. She had even started preaching at her local church.
Young as she was, Mbuya Soko became a powerful pastor who captured the attention of many people.
But in 1997, the spirits were back once more.
“This time I started seeing things. I would be preaching one moment and a fierce angry man would appear in front of me telling me that this was not the path that I was supposed to be taking. Once that vision came, I would lose focus and struggle to finish my sermon. I fasted and prayed for that spirit to go but it did not,” said Mbuya Soko.
The following year, she got married and took all her stuff with her.
On her mother’s advice, she hid the things under their bed, where her husband would never think to look.
But the spirits had other ideas.
One night, they woke him up and told him about her secret. They even told him where to find her tools of trade.
“When I woke up from the trance, I saw the things on the bed and I was terrified that my marriage had been destroyed. My husband only asked why I had kept such a secret from him. He agreed to do the ceremony that they told him to do and since then we are fine,” she said.
At that time, Mbuya Soko was doing an HIV and AIDS counselling course and would lecture to student nurses. She started pulling crowds and worked with different organisations. But the spirits felt someone wanted to use her gift for wrong purposes so she had to leave Zimbabwe.
A colleague who stayed in Iran had once invited her so she went there. With no passport or knowledge of where she would stay, she boarded a plane and went to the land of the unknown.
After six months, she joined her husband who had relocated to another country. There she established her life.
She trained and became a gynaecologist. They had three children and she was still a powerful pastor.
Life was good.
Until the fierce old man came back in 2009.
She and her husband prayed about the visions but they did not stop until a colleague from Nigeria advised her that if she was not yet ready to allow the spirits to use her, she could put rice in her stuff and throw them into the sea.
In December 2009 she took her blue dish, the sceptre, cloths and pouch and drove with her youngest son to a beach 200km away from their home.
“While others were enjoying themselves at the beach, I was busy watching my stuff drift into the sea. We drove back and had our usual Friday night barbeque. My husband says at 3 am, I woke up and spoke in a foreign language. He could not discern what I was saying but he told me that the tone of my voice was angry and I spoke for a long time. After that, I just fell unconscious,” Mbuya Soko said.
They took her to the hospital after they failed to locate their family doctor.
Back home, her mother went back to the traditional healer they had consulted before, who gave her some water to use. The healer told her mother that the spirits would discipline Mbuya Soko in Harare.
After nine days in a coma, she woke up after seeing the vision of her grandfather and aunt. Her brother took her stuff and her home.
But at 2am the next morning, she left the house without telling anyone where she was going.
She doesn’t remember how she travelled or crossed the border without her passport but she woke up near an avocado tree that was outside their family house in Mufakose.
“At that time, my tongue was still inclined towards Afrikaans, Arabic and English and somehow I could not speak Shona. I could hear what they were saying but I would respond in other languages so everyone thought I had gone crazy,” she said.
All tests were done but they showed nothing until her mother took her to her rural home in Rusape.
They went back to the pool at Zambe where her mother did the rituals she had been told to do by the n’anga.
Suddenly, a whirlwind surrounded her and she fell into the pool. For five days, her mother stayed by the poolside and waited for her to be returned.
“She knew that someone who had been taken by the mermaids (vemumvura) would eventually come back if their family did not mourn them. The ancestors gave my mother fish to sustain her for those five days and she says they would sometimes bring me above the ground for her to see that I was still alive. On the sixth day, I remember seeing a light and a force pushing me up. I remember the lessons that I underwent underwater and the voices that kept chanting ‘serve the nation’. I came from the water completely dry with memory of the visions from underground,” she added.
On February 6, 2010, she went back to their rural homestead and started attending to people who had heard that she had come back from the underworld. Her Vapostori family now knew that she had become a spirit medium.
She started healing people and has not stopped since.
Mbuya Soko does not use things such as ‘Gona” in her work but just uses the snuff, bark from indigenous trees and a small cow-tail bunch which she uses to hook evil spirits from her clients.
She said that was the way she got to the root cause of problems which are usually brought about by curses.
She says she does not deal with small problems but wants those difficult spiritual wars like Ngozi and infertility.
Mbuya Soko said she uses her knowledge from modern medicine and combines it with the traditional knowledge she has to help women conceive.
“I will always be a gynaecologist. That is where my passion lies. I have many grandchildren out there who were conceived after I intervened. If you have a calling, it will always follow you. I am just continuing with the work that I was called to do even though I am now using different methods. My spirit guides me, it knows what to do. So am using my knowledge from both worlds to help women. What I do not do is to help them give birth only, they go to the hospital for that but if an emergency comes along, I can do that,” she said.
But her services are not free.
Mbuya Soko says she charges a reasonable amount for her to attack the curse that causes the problems that people bring to her.
“Although I do not charge exorbitant fees, I charge all my clients because for the curse that has been placed on you to work, a sacrifice is made. For me to remove it, you need to pay a token,” she clarified.
“But for the poor, I make an exception. I do not want someone leaving here without getting help because they don’t have money.”
She said the bond with my husband had grown stronger after he had accepted her calling. Even her in-laws have accepted her although some relatives still didn’t understand why he had stayed with a n’anga.
Mbuya Soko has even devised a way to work that leaves her time with her family.
On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, she deals with clients who seek her services over the phone and those from outside the country. On other days, she operates from her shrine in Mufakose.
She now has five kids and still has time to help them with their homework.
“I cannot be a n’anga all the time. I am still young and need time with my family. I always make sure I finish work early so that I get home and do my duties. I cook for my husband and do his laundry. I am a mother and a wife so I give myself time with them even though we no longer have time for doing some things we used to before. I also want to remain healthy because this work is very draining,” she added.
She said although she was still under punishment from the ancestors, she had accepted her calling and was now enjoying it.
“In the past it used to bother me that I was now a traditional healer from being a doctor. But I am now happy. Once I have atoned to the spirits, I have hope that I will go back to my old job. But then again my heart bleeds for the people who still need my help. It is my hope that I can do both, even if traditional healing is part time,” said Mbuya Soko.

-State media