Can muthi fix your love life? Happy clients are all the proof this herbalist needs
Looking to get a partner back or keep one? Want bigger boobs or a larger penis? Mama Maria, from a traditional market in Jozi, says she's got the recipe for you
February - the month of love - is smooth sailing for some in romantic relationships. Probably just a distant memory by now, on Valentine's Day you gave or received the obligatory gift, accompanied by a bit of quality time together and hopefully some affection in varying degrees. But, of course, not everyone was that lucky.
February might be the shortest month of the year, but for some people in relationships, it feels like the longest, thanks in part to the pressures that come with the expectations Valentine's Day sets up. Resources are thinly stretched, yet partners expect more from their companions, and sometimes the pressure can prove to be too much.
Mama Maria Mkhabela's WhatsApp messages and phone calls go crazy at this time of the year. She's a herbalist who's been at Kwa Mai Mai — one of Joburg's most established muthi (traditional medicine) markets for more than 10 years.
"People put themselves under so much pressure they sometimes damage their relationships," she says. "They allow TV, radio, Facebook and other social media adverts to convince them that, if they don't have the perfect Valentine's Day, they don't have the perfect partner."
Chances are you've noticed the leaflets plastered all over the city centre: "Bring back your lost lover," they advertise. But the purveyors of these powers claim to be able to do a lot more than reconcile estranged lovers. They will also unlock your life's potential and make sure you win court cases. Plus, should you enlist the services advertised, your enemies will fail while you'll be assured success.
"When people have broken up for silly reasons, they come to me to mend their love lives. I use traditional herbs that are strong enough to make this possible. I use the bark of a special tree which I burn to redirect the relationship's direction," says Mkhabela.
"For the particularly difficult customers who can't reconcile after trying other Western interventions, I use the skin of a porcupine mixed with herbs to make a powerful concoction."
I've been married for 14 years and my wife merely needs to apologise to make things right (it's never my fault), so I've never had need of services like these. But I naturally have questions: does this muthi work like Unisa - as in, by correspondence - or do you have to consult her in person? Does she have the efficacy research to prove that what she does is effective?
People are all the same. It doesn't matter if you're from Cape Town, Nkandla or Joburg - we have the same problems, and I have solutions for allMama Maria Mkhabela
"My herbs work," says Mkhabela. "You're thinking like a city boy, wanting proof and numbers for everything. I see many people in person, and others whose love lives have been healed over the phone. My clients give me the feedback I need. If they didn't keep coming back to me, I'd know what I do doesn't work. I have repeat customers who've consulted with me their entire lives.
"Some come here for their second and third marriages. Young people also come to find luck with their boyfriends or girlfriends, and I see homosexual clients too."
Mkhabela believes the body, soul and mind are one when it comes to healing, and recommends a holistic approach.
"It doesn't help to get your partner back, only to lose them again. I offer herbs that help you keep your partner. They can enlarge hips, penises and boobs. They work."
But as a man experienced in relationships, I believe that their demise isn't only due to physical shortcomings. So I ask Mkhabela if she has herbs for misunderstandings, lack of trust and poor communication? And what about something to assist with the infamous in-laws?
"People are all the same. It doesn't matter if you're from Cape Town, Nkandla or Joburg - we have the same problems, and I have solutions for all. My collection of herbs, plants, shrubs and trees cover all human ills, physical and otherwise," she says.
"I make sweets called mlomomnandi [delicious mouth], a 'sangoma's magic bath' that can wash away problems, and I have vimbela, which prevents love problems from becoming regular. I also have love drops which form a permanent bond between lovers," she says.
Mkhabela is quick to add that the practice of being a traditional herbalist isn't popular with most South Africans, especially the urban middle-class.
"The first time you see how Kwa Mai Mai looks as an outsider, it's scary. You need to understand we're operating in a different realm. We are ridiculed, but I've seen people buy into the idea of a love spell, if a European suggests it. Some people use playing cards and dolls to ensure a couple stays together. How different are they from what I do?"
For some, the month of love is about teddy bears, chocolate and corny cards. For others it involves herbs, snuff and traditional intervention. At the end of the day, we all want the best version of love we can get.