“My life is a joke.”
With these five words, Baba Credo Vusamazulu Mutwa began the interview. It was March 2015, and, like many people’s first encounters with the great African sanusi, the circumstances of the meeting were impossible.
A few days before, I had gotten it in my head that I was writing the wrong book about the continent. My brother Richard Poplak and I had travelled already to 14 countries, most recently to the Central African Republic, and now we were closing in on a final draft of the text. The thing that had suddenly started to bother me was that the true frame through which to tell the story of Africa was not the frame of politics; it was the frame of spirit.
I made a call to another friend who I thought might understand. He did — and after the call, he sent me the number of a white sangoma. When I called this young man, a big beautiful bearded fella with Welsh blood who never wore shoes, he said, “Ah, so you’re the journalist I’ve been dreaming about. We leave on Tuesday.”
Tuesday had now come, I was sitting before the man himself. The bare room was in a humble house at the back end of Mothibistad, the location on the outskirts of Kuruman. It had red walls and a tattered sofa, opposite which were three plastic chairs. Baba Credo had appeared after a 90-minute wait, accompanied by his wife Ma Virginia. He was 93 years old at the time, frail and unable to walk without the aid of his life partner, but with the unmistakable aura of a lion.
For a full two hours, as inaugurated by his opening statement, all he did was roar. At me, for being a journalist. At me, for not getting the message. At me, for asking about “Adam’s Calendar”.
The prophecy, he said, had been stolen. The white man who he alleged had stolen the prophecy from him – a name that shall not be mentioned in this obituary – was a man celebrated by spiritual seekers around the world. The true identity of this ancient place on the Mpumalanga escarpment, he said, was not Adam’s Calendar but “Inzalo ye Langa,” Zulu for “Birthplace of the Sun”.
As it turned out, not only had the prophecies been stolen but the money too. The international royalties from his opus Indaba, My Children, which had first been published in 1964 and was still in print as an African classic, had landed up in other people’s pockets. The same for most of his works, all of which were based on his visions. And then, of course, there were the more intimate reasons that he was poor, sore and angry.
In 1976, when he was in his mid-50s and had long ago been initiated into almost every indigenous healing tradition of southern Africa, he saw that the struggle for liberation, with its emphasis on the ideology of communism, was taking the people away from their roots. He thus advocated for a separation between the races, so that black people would be free to return to the ancient ways. For this, his cultural village in Soweto was torched.
For this, his eldest son was murdered.
Begging the question: would Baba Credo have appreciated the tributes paid to him on the day of his passing, 25 March 2020, by the African National Congress and President Cyril Ramaphosa? Would he have laughed at the joke?
It’s hard to say, but what those who knew him are saying is that he is relieved to be on the other side.
“God is an ugly woman who won’t let me die,” Baba Credo told me in that first meeting. At least, I think he told me that – I may easily have read it somewhere, or heard it from another sangoma. Since then, rumours of his passing have been greatly exaggerated more than a few times.
My last visit to Baba Credo was in April 2019. I was taken to the house by my friend Kummt’sa, a Bushman healer from Andriesvale in the Kalahari, who had been initiated into Baba’s prophecies a decade before. When Ma Virgina saw Kummt’sa, she cried. “Our son,” she said, “our son.”
The father was writhing in pain on a mattress on the floor of the same bare red room I had seen him in back in 2015. He would raise his head every 20 minutes, groan, and take a swig from a plastic bottle of milk. The milk would spill out of his mouth and into the tufts of his pure white beard, a perfect meeting of man and his sustenance.
Because, for all his justified anger, for all his rage at the people who refused to hear, Baba Credo was light all the way through. In 1937, when he was 16, he performed a secret ceremony that closed the northern gate of an ancient and sacred site, so that the light from his eyes would not blind.
He has now chosen to leave us on the day before we go into lockdown, the day that we desperately need his sight.
But on the other side, say the sangomas, he has the peace that he wishes for us. DM
Penguins push other penguins into the water to check if it is free of predators.