Online Witch Doctors Lure South African Christians

Churches are combating syncretism among millennials and Gen Z amid a rise of social media healers who call on ancestral spirits.

Millions of Black South Africans seek guidance from sangomas, traditional healers or so-called witch doctors who use their spiritual gifts to connect with ancestors, prescribe herbs to heal illnesses, and throw dry bones to predict the future.

It’s a centuries-old tradition that has continued in the majority-Christian country and has adapted for the internet age: A new breed of influencer sangomas are positioning themselves on social media as digital-entrepreneurial-spiritual seers.

Church leaders across several major denominations in South Africa have long decried the practice as involving “evil, devilish, and unclean spirits.” But as the online sagomas draw in a mass audience of millennial Christians—a generation eager to “decolonize” their lives and reconnect to indigenous African roots—church leaders have new concerns around syncretism as well as internet scams.

Condemnation of sangomas and African ancestral worship is the strongest cog uniting European-legacy churches like Anglicans, Baptists, and Catholics as well as African-initiated churches like the Zion Christian Church (ZCC), said Tendai Muchatuta, a cleric with the Apostolic of All Nations Church in Johannesburg.

Both kinds of churches say the practice, despite its popularity, is not compatible with Christianity.

The ZCC is the largest African-initiated church in Southern Africa, with about 12 million churchgoers, including some 9 million in South Africa. Bauleni Moloi, a ZCC pastor in Johannesburg, called sangomas “dubious agents of darkness out to sway Christians from the true focus on the gospel of the cross.”

But younger Christians are more likely to disagree. Many millennial and Gen Z South Africans embrace …

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