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Witchcraft, Zombies, and Music: The Case of Khulekani "Mgqumeni" Khumalo

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Summary of the Event

South African Zulu folk singer Khulekani "Mgqumeni" Khumalo died in 2009. Last week, a man claiming to be Khumalo appeared in Khumalo’s hometown in the KwaZulu-Natal province in Southern Africa. Speaking to a crowd of thousands, he announced his “resurrection,” explaining that a witch had abducted him and kept him in a cave with zombies, where he was forced to sing and ate only mud (causing his weight loss), and that he would have become a zombie himself had he not escaped to Johannesburg. Upon his return, his grandparents, two of his wives, and his daughter confirmed his identity, while an ex-lover and childhood friend rejected the claim. At his “unveiling,” he refused to sing, and instead recited his clan names. The police used water cannons on the crowd after the thousands of people who had walked to catch a glimpse of him became rowdy. The police were immediately suspicious of fraud, and on Tuesday “Khumalo” appeared at Nquthu magistrate court. Fingerprinting ascertained that the man is actually Sibusiso John Gcabashe; it is unclear whether the man believes his own story or not.

Analysis

While this story at first appears to be first-rate tabloid matter, it plays on several different tensions within African culture. Most obvious is the tension between the traditional belief in witchcraft and the modern disparagement of that belief. To a westerner, witchcraft is a remnant of a ‘primitive’ society, and encourages feelings of superiority, but to a traditional African, it is a part of existence, and a form of theodicy. Witchcraft explains suffering in such a way that it can be dealt with; the witch can be sought out and forced to amend his or her evil actions. Gcabashe’s claim, that a witch physically abd...

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...to the same culture, seems to be an embarrassment to the African officials.

Works Cited

“South African ‘back-from-dead singer Mgqumeni’ detained.” BBC News. 6 February 2012.

“S Africa police charge Mgqumeni ‘imposter’ with fraud.” BBC News. 7 February 2012.

Liston, Enjoli. “Witchcraft fans mob man claiming to be reincarnated singer abducted by zombies.” The Independent Online. 08 February 2012.

Campbell, Andy. “Zombie Singer Turns Out To Be Sibusiso John Gcabashe, Not Late South African Zulu Folk Singer Khulekani "Mgqumeni" Khumalo.” The Huffington Post. 8 February 2012.

Secondary Source

Neihaus, Isak. “Witches and Zombies of the South African Lowveld: Discourse, Accusations and Subjective Reality.” The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 11, No. 2 (Jun., 2005), pp. 191-210. Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland.
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