The use of muti, a Zulu word that refers to witchcraft and traditional medicine, is commonplace in South Africa. People here turn to it for health and good fortune. But also to serve up bad luck to enemies and foes.
Materials for muti’s potions and spells can be found in places like this, the Faraday Market in central Johannesburg. Look one way and you’ll see stacks of herbs and bottles of chalky liquids. Look another and there is an elephant trunk, a rhinosaurus leg and a pair ofcow hooves.
Traditional diviners and herbalists, called Sangomas and Nyonkas, carefully guard their recipes.
Some traditional healers say World Cup fans have been coming to them in recent weeks for a competitive edge. One Sangoma offers a powder that fans can blow at their beloved team to ensure a victory. Others have remedies that can help the athletes themselves.
Earlier this year, the medical committe at FIFA expressed concerns that some herbal remedies may contain performance enhancing stimulants, but the matter was left to local authorities. The South African Institute for Drug Free Sport says any stimulants used in muti can’t be detected in standard doping tests and that the ingreidents are hard to come by.
The South African national team, known here as Bfana Gobona, has denied any of the team has used muti. But professional trainers, like Tondo Makal, who have worked with top ranked players, say Muti is used at all levels of the sport in South Africa, from casual weekend games to top-flight teams.
“You look at all of the teams n the country. They do it.”
Fellow instructor, Akili Zakali, says that muti is prevelant even at the youth level. One time, he recalls, when he was a young athlete at an amateur club his team began losing and the coach ordered all of the players to turn in their cleets. When the shoes were returned, the muti was right there, he says, plain as day.
“They had all sorts of markings, inside and out. With something that’s white, sort of like chalk or something like that. Cooled off we went into our match and we won. Guess what. From now on this is the way to go.”