Clive Dennison
2 minute read
2 Oct 2008

Mysterious medicine man unveiled

Clive Dennison

CLIVE DENNISON reviews The Extraordinary Khotso by Felicity Wood and Michael Lewis. Jacana.

Khotso Sethuntsa, the millionaire medicine man of Lusikisiki, has been something of a mystery figure because although legends abound, until now, his life has not been the subject of a scholarly study. Fortunately and timeously, this has been corrected with the publication of this book.

Wood and Lewis have provided a detailed biography of Khotso, tracing his life from his birth in 1898, in a remote village on the banks of the Senqu River in Lesotho, to his death in a Durban hospital, in 1972. However, they provide much more than a bare biography and, drawing on many sources including people who personally knew Khotso well, have endeavoured to explain the enigmas and paradoxes of his life and to analyse the “secret” of his fabulous wealth.

They paint a picture of a complex, multifaceted and paradoxical personality who, above all, was a shrewd judge of human nature and with a good understanding of universal human fears and hopes. We all wish for good health and fear illness and death; we all hope for success in financial matters and in love, and fear falling short in these areas. Khotso’s “secret” was that, using a combination of carrots and sticks, he exploited these common human hopes and fears, to his own advantage.

I was left wondering about Khotso’s tactics – among others, claiming to be in touch with supernatural forces to impress and intimidate his naïve clients. But, I suppose his business model was not unlike that of religions – promising that supernatural forces will bring great rewards if you obey and disaster if you don’t. A difference is that religions don’t encourage selfish motives. Or do they? Two of Khotso’s claimed apprentices, Isaiah Shembe and Ignatius Lekganyane, went on to great influence and personal wealth of their own by establishing their own religious sects, the Church of the Nazarites and the Zion Christian Church, respectively.

I found the book a fascinating read on several levels and I was left thinking deeply. I recommend it to anyone interested in local history, human psychology and ethics.