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Visit Sangomas in the Eastern Free State Highlands

The Ferility Caves, Motouleng, the Free State, South Africa

As far as South African cultural experiences go, there can be few as authentic or as enlightening as a visit with traditional witch-doctor healers, called Sangomas, on their own sacred tribal ground. One such place is found just outside Clarens in the Free State Highlands, at the foot of the Maluti Mountain range of Lesotho.

The Fertility Caves are located at the Motouleng Cave Heritage Site about 18km from Clarens. The Caves are situated beneath the largest of the multi-hued stone overhangs the Clarens area is famous for, thought to be the second largest sandstone overhang in the Southern Hemisphere.

Also called the Holy Cave, the 1ha long overhang incorporates a number of smaller cave areas and has stone walls and huts built into it, with symbols and messages scrawled on them, some mysterious, some in plain English and referencing modern times, such as the scourge of HIV.

The Caves are frequented annually by thousands of women who go there to burn candles and make offerings to the Ancestors for help getting pregnant or in thanks. The Caves are also used for girls’ initiation ceremonies, by the sick and their relatives who go there for healing, and by many others, old and young, who are looking to connect with the spirit world, understand their dreams or give thanks to their ancestors.

Sangomas are most associated with the Motouleng Caves, holding ritual ceremonies and sacrificing chickens and goats, as they have done for centuries, and some live there for months at a time or longer. Some stay for years – drawn to the Cave by dreams that tell them their spiritual calling. However, you are as likely to see the many Sotho Christian Zionists who make pilgrimages to the Caves, often in throngs, brightly dressed and singing to God. Old and new spiritual beliefs and customs need not be mutually exclusive, and at Motouleng, they have combined to make a whole greater than the sum if the two parts.

A fountain at the entrance to Motouleng is called Sediba sa Bophelo – the Fountain of Life – and people drop silver coins in the fountain for good fortune as they do elsewhere in the world.

Getting there: The Motouleng Cave can be reached via an easy 2km hike from a farm 15km out of Clarens, and while local tribes members come and go as they please, it is advisable to visit the caves on a guided tour out of respect for the Sangomas and initiates who live there, their ancestors, and for the fact that it is sacred ground. On any day the cave can be all but totally empty, or buzzing with life and ceremony, with offerings being made and candles burning.

You may be advised to wear a long skirt or cover up in some way.

For more info and to book a tour call Clarens Xtreme +27 58 256 1260

More on the quaint town of Ficksburg More on the Eastern Free State area