Some, in the country’s biggest city Cape Town, have confronted a herbalist at the Khayelitsha train station after she was said to have sold the traditional blend, Amakhosi muti, to a 13-year-old.
The concoction is also believed to make the wearer more popular with the opposite sex. And it is worn in a small bottle in a string of beads around the neck or was mixed in a strip of goat’s skin worn on the wrist like a bangle. But some children have also told the parents that the herbalist told them to swallow the mixture.
The main ingredient is a powder called phuncuka bemphethe, which roughly translates as ‘cannot be touched’ and calls upon the person wearing it to be protected by their ancestors.
“Amakhosi does everything for you,” said another herbalist, Duma Kude Majwarha. “You can steal and they (ancestors) will protect you,” he told the country’s West Cape News. “When you are in a fight they fight for you,” he said.
But he said herbalists were using it for the wrong reasons.
Primary school children interviewed by the paper said they were using it to be invincible in fights. Some said it also helped them to get more attention from the opposite sex, while others used it to avoid getting caught stealing.
The pupils said their first sample cost as little as R5 – the equivalent of £5, but if they wanted a stronger version, they would give the herbalist a bottle of brandy or a white chicken.
One school girl said she got Amakhosi from a friend who had bought two bracelets from a herbalist at the Khayelitsha train station. “She told me that they would help me to win physical fights and protect my family,” the seven year-old said.
“When I’m in a fight I wake them up. I go down on my knees. I just say ‘vuka’ and the fight begins. Some said my eyes turn red or white but I never saw them because I’m fighting.”
The child said the first person she fought was another girl who she beat till she was bleeding from her head. “Lucky she managed to escape and run.” She said she had taken off her bracelet afterwards, but the spirits were still inside her.
Using the herb, Amakhosi started in high schools but its use is now spreading to primary schools, said community leader, Mhlophe Gantso. “We investigated lots of children around Khayelitsha schools and they all pointed to sangomas or herbalist. I have complaints from parents saying they’ve been beaten by their kids.”
Parents are now working with police to try and stop herbalists selling Amakhosi to children.