Thursday, April 2, 2009

Dead Man Walking -- South Africa's Lazarus Man

Has Nkosinathi Ntsente come back from the dead? This is the question that has caught the imaginations of people in and around Mqanduli and the surrounding townships, in the Transkei region on the eastern cape of South Africa.

How could this be? Dead is dead.

Well, maybe not if you're a Lazarus man. Eight years ago, Nkosinathi Ntsente was a minibus taxi driver. One night, in an event described euphemistically as "taxi violence" Ntsente was shot and apparently killed. At least that's what everybody thought. After all, he had a funeral and was publicly buried. So it did not seem unusual to anybody that they hadn't seen him since.

Yet, more than a few astonished eyebrows were raised when he showed up "wandering around" in the village of Ngqeleni in late March, just in time for April Fool's Day (just sayin'). He was taken to the family's home in Hluleka by his uncle. Nkosinathi Ntsente, now 39 years of age, seems to have a new lease on life.

But how does he account for the "born again" experience? And how does he account for the eight missing years?

Well, why not go with the "mystical" explanation? That will appeal both to traditional superstitions and new age spiritualism.

Ntsente himself tells a story that is filled with mysticism, but comes no closer to explaining what happened.

Ntsente’s supposed “resurrection” has spread like a wildfire through Transkei, drawing crowds to his homestead.

From the early hours of the morning until late, he keeps repeating his story of how he was forced to survive on human blood, sorghum and wild berries while living in the forest.

“I’m tired of telling the same story, the whole day, every day,” he said.

Having to tell the same story over and over and over again is a bitch. Especially when you've just risen from the dead, and surely want to get on with your life. After all there are eight years of catching up to do.

But what would a story of spiritualism and mysticism be without a good dose of "out of body" experience.

It was believed Ntsente had been shot dead in 2001 during taxi-related violence between the Ncedo and Border taxi associations.

Ntsente claims the gunmen were in white minibus taxi – and that he saw it all happening. “During the shooting I saw myself standing on another side watching a person who resembled me being shot in the forehead, right knee stomach and spine.”

Ntsente said his badly injured “duplicate” was taken to St Barnabas Hospital in Libode . “I witnessed this person dying. The body was taken to the hospital’s mortuary where (it was) cut open to remove internal organs before it was kept in a fridge.”

Ntsente claims he even witnessed his night vigil and funeral and was then taken by “four female witches” to a dark forest where he met “lots of other abducted people”.

“We mostly drank blood and ate izinsipa (used sorghum) and wild berries. I was released after witches said I was too powerful for them to make me do evil things,” he said.

Abducted by witches. Nice twist.

And as for the pilgrims that are flocking to see the Lazarus man? Well, I suppose if we can fathom the idea of Mexicans walking a hundred kilometres to see the visage of the Virgin Mary on a taco shell, it shouldn't be too much of a stretch to imagine eastern cape locals making a pilgrimage to see the corporeal incarnation of a man from beyond the grave.

The only remaining questions are these: If Nkosinathi Ntsente is walking around telling his fantastic story of out-of-body experiences and abduction by witches, then who (if anybody) is buried beneath his grave marker? And, I'm sorry but where the hell was he really for the past eight years?


*Possibly related, possibly not*

Cannabis Sativa, more commonly known in Southern Africa as dagga (or colloquially as "boom" or "madjat"), has been grown and consumed in Southern Africa since about 1000 BC, according to a Crime Prevention Bulletin of the Namibian Police. It is an illegal substance in South Africa and Lesotho, and has been linked to organized crime and gang violence both in South African townships on the cape and along the border region with Lesotho.

So, is dagga more or less like marijuana? Well, yes. More or less. But it would seem to be somewhat stronger, causing serious hallucinogenic and/or psychotic episodes in some users.

Dagga does not affect everyone in the same way - your existing state of mind would largely determine your reaction. However, it is known to intensify existing moods: dagga may aggravate feelings of depression up to a point where the person becomes a danger to himself. Self-control disappears, the person becomes exceedingly talkative, laughs easily and generally appears to be silly. Smokers often become thirsty and hungry and their eyes turn red. Heavier dosages cause hallucinations and loss of muscular control. Anyone driving in this condition is as much a criminal as is the drunken driver. Even one joint lowers the oxygen supply to the brain which might account for the dagga smoker's loss of short-term memory.


As it happens, wild dagga grows along the eastern cape of South Africa. The area marked in red on this map indicates the region where wild dagga grows, and thus where it is cultivated and harvested. This is actually an expansive coastal region extending from Port Elizabeth all the way along the eastern cape to the Mozambique border. This is also the region where Nkosinathi Ntsente "died", was "buried" and "resurrected"; the region where he then spun some pretty goofy yarns about posthumous abduction by witches.

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