Mamasilanoka: The young diviner

Led by a spirit (moya) to a secret place

One ordinary day the young and carefree teenage girl took a taxi to do her usual grocery shopping, not suspecting that her life would completely change.

She was dropped off at the familiar street, singing the lyrics of a favourite song and having declared the day a cell phone-free day, she went about her happy stroll.

“All I remember was walking down the street, and then suddenly, in the midst of strange company”. She later learned she had lost consciousness and had collapsed as a result. The rest of that day was somewhat a blur but the dream that followed was more than real.

At first it’s hard to believe that she is nineteen, the unusual respect which people show her, but then you notice the cracking clumsy nail polish on her tiny fidgeting fingers, and her small structure. She may well pass as an ordinary girl, but the white and red beads around her neck and ankle tell her story. She is a diviner (Nyaka), a girl gifted with extraordinary sight into the future and other spiritual matters. She has been chosen. I was warned not to speak to her.

“These are dangerous people”, some say. But she is just a girl.

“I saw you coming to me”. She said to me, sweetly smiling when she noticed it caused me a little discomfort, “and I know what you were going to ask me.” With her every word is vital and I found myself searching for a possible meaning to every word.

“What were your early recollections this morning?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” she wrinkles her nose the way a teenager would.

“As in your reflection of the day…?” I struggled to find the right words, but a glint in her eyes made me see she understood my question. Maybe she read my mind. Could it be?

“I woke up to huge pile of dirty laundry. I hate laundry.” We both laughed. A diviner’s wit. That was the icebreaker.

Agnes Moteledi was born in 1994 (she did not disclose the exact date, only the year, after hesitating), in Kimberley. The family later moved to Koffiefontein. When she turned five her father was arrested and transferred to Grootvlei prison. “Growing up like that was hard, because I had to pretend I did not know my real father”. Her mother decided to move the family to Bloemfontein so they could get closer to the father. She began school shortly afterwards in Bloemfontein Oos primary, a public school some distance from phase six, the neighbourhood they lived in at the time. “My schooling was only disturbed by my diviner hood. I respect education.”

About a year since the shopping incident she learned she was chosen, as a diviner. She was led by a spirit (moya) to a place she saw in a dream, and there she found the people of her dream waiting for her. “I never thought I am a diviner, I liked the life that every girl my age liked. I liked going out with my friends, listening to music, and having a good time.”

She was led to a secret place where she learned the ways of her people. “I later learned that my grandfather was also a diviner.” And there she received knowledge and returned as Mamasilanoka. “I was named after a bird.” No longer a girl in the ordinary sense, her relationship with the people around her altered, “I sometimes miss my old friends. People treat me differently.”

“Are there moments where you sorely miss your old life?” she maintains a steady gaze. She does not seem perturbed by the questions. Maybe she is guarding herself too closely, but after seeing her laugh, I doubt it.
“I do” she says resigned. Pause. “But Agnes had to be Mamasilanoka.”

I had noticed her jeans on the previous visit. “Don’t you feel like you are violating ancient customs?” Giggles.
“I respect the ancestral spirits but they know I love jeans.”

What do you think about people who under-value traditional medicine?

I love western medicine. If I have a head ache, I go to the store to buy disprins, but sometimes western medicine does not work”.

What can you tell me about bad spirits?

“They cannot touch you if you pray.” I was shocked so she explained “everything happens because God allows it to. Even witches pray before they ply their trade”, the expression is a township adage, but I have never heard it expressed that way.

“Can I ask you a personal question?” I had to be brave.


“Do you have a boyfriend?”

“Yes, and he worships me” she laughs.