Religion and Beliefs of the Ndebele

© Dr Peter Magubane
Traditional Ndebele healers dancing at their graduation ceremony.

An Active Spiritual World

As with most traditional groups in Africa, Ndebele life is characterized by an active spiritual world, which exercises great influence over even the smallest issues in daily existence. Illness and bad luck, good health and fortune are all seen as the result of either direct interventions from the spirit world, or the manipulations of interlocutors with that world.

The latter are the healers who work for good, or witches who weave evil about them. The ancestors 'abezimu', the most important denizens of the spirit world, are both solicitous and jealous, requiring constant placation through sacrifice. Failure to follow the dictates of the law and custom, as demanded by the ancestors, is believed to be the main cause of bad luck.

They are also believed to protect the living against misfortune by counselling them in dreams, and by giving strength to medicinal preparations made from herbs and other concoctions. The ancestors are thus the foundation on which traditional healing rests.

The power of ancestor belief and worship has endowed the Ndebele with their cultural continuity, which has enabled them to retain a separate identity in the midst of more powerful and dominant neighbouring groupings, as well as through the ravages of war and their diaspora.