Actor, novelist, musician, teacher and n’anga rolled in one . . . The life of Cornelius Ncube

Cornelius Mayuyu Ncube

THE first time that Cornelius Mayuyu Ncube thought he might have a special gift was when he was in primary school. 

This was a few decades before the British Broadcasting Corporation would discover his burning rock shrine in Pumula East, a rock which harboured a mysterious python.  

Back then in primary school, at a time when his age mates were fascinated by theatrics, Ncube would amaze classmates and sometimes even teachers with his ability to see things that were thought to be beyond the vision of the ordinary primary school child. Ignorance is bliss, the popular adage goes, and at the time he did not know how or why he could see divine things that only someone with an eye on the future could. 

“When I was in primary school I would do a lot of things that had no explanation, for example I could predict who would come first in class and then it would happen. At the time I didn’t know what was happening to me but I would get visions and insights and at some point people in school would gather around me. My brother would go on to tell my parents about this and they would be extremely unhappy at my behaviour,” he told Sunday Life. 

His parents could not make sense of his behaviour. Like other guardians, they wanted what was best for their child and to them that meant watching him grow up and get a decent education. On the academic front, Ncube did not disappoint, going from St Bernard’s to Minda High School where he was part of the first ever stream of students to enrol at the school. However, it was at Hlekwini College that his calling nudged him again, reminding him of which direction that he needed to take in his life. 

“Later on at Hlekwini when I was doing my tertiary education I would look at people and just accurately divine all the problems that were afflicting them at the time. I didn’t know where all this was coming or what was actually happening to me. Eventually it became just overwhelming. It became harder and harder to function normally in life and school because abadala would just come knocking at any time. In the end I managed to finish my studies but this was after I struggled. I was happy I had got it done,” he said. 

It was also at Hlekwini that, while he struggled against spirits that seemed determined to pull him back, Ncube also discovered his creative side. 

“While at Hlekwini I took part in many social activities and it was there that my love for the arts fully flourished. I became a composer for various groups that did various kinds of genres, I took part in drama and theatre activities and I was also writing short stories. I truly explored my creative side while I was there,” he said.

Things would however, soon turn for the worst. After battling his “demons” for a long time, Ncube soon decided to give in to these unrelenting forces that he could not quite understand. 

“In 1978 that is when things became unbearable. I couldn’t push off the ancestors anymore. So it happened that one day when I was sleeping I was shown a vision that said I should go to Njelele. This was when Njelele used to work and serve a purpose. Now, in my opinion it is no longer what it used to be. I woke up and just started walking to Njelele. 

“I walked all the way from Bulawayo until I reached the place and I met an old man who said he would take me to the mountain. After that he took me to his home and I told him all that I had dreamt,” he said.

A journey on foot to Njelele might seem extraordinary but it was nothing compared to what awaited him on the other side of the hills and slopes that surround the great shrine. What he found there would define the rest of his life. 

“I got another vision and in it I was told to head to the river and in the middle of it I would find a python that I would have to fight and bring back. I was shown some trees and roots that I was supposed to eat and some bring back with the python. I did all of that and when I went back I was now a true traditional healer. I never went to thwasa (initiation). I became a healer after that and I have never stopped healing since the late 1970s. Most of my fellow healers from that time are no longer around,” he said.      

This journey to self discovery did not sit well with Ncube’s family. They had bargained on their son rising to greater things after his stint at Hlekwini College. 

“There was a lot of resistance from my family because they felt that as an educated person there were other things that I should have been doing with my life. They were also very devout Christians and they felt that by taking this path I was showing contempt of the family’s beliefs,” he said. 

He first grabbed the attention of the world for being the guardian of a rock in Pumula East suburb that would spontaneously catch fire and burn on its own for several hours. The rock, and the python resident near it, gave Ncube immense healing powers. In 1991 the BBC did a documentary on one of his healing services which led to large numbers of white people rushing to the notorious rock for Ncube’s famous healing touch. 

“I had another vision, I was shown two shrines. One was in Khami and another in Pumula East. I went to look at the one in Khami and didn’t like it and then I went to Pumula East and when I got there I dug up where I had been to do so. I unearthed many artefacts that had been left behind. 

“I had been told to only take the knobkerrie and so that what I did. I left everything behind. Then in another vision I was told that I should go on top of the rock and shrine where I would find a spirit in the form of a python. I was afraid to go there but I kept getting visions reassuring me. One morning I went and found the giant python on top of the rock but I didn’t run away. I overcame my fear and from that point on began healing people,” he said. 

Despite the fame that his healing powers brought him, Ncube always nurtured a secret passion. While by day he nursed people’s ailments, healing everything from mental illness to infertility, by night he wrote TV scripts, songs and novels. One of these ended up on ZBC as the television drama, Sakhelene Zinini, while lyrics he wrote ended up on songs by such musicians as Jeys Marabini. 

Ncube also boasts that he can also play every musical instrument except marimba while he appeared in popular TV drama Kukhulwa Kokuphela as Mqwayi.  

“I always wanted to write so in between the healing I would find time to write. I wrote a script for one of the earliest dramas on ZBC called Sakhelene Zinini.   Despite the fact that I spent most of my time healing, I always made a bit of time for my writing. That’s how I started working with musicians like Jeys Marabini who I consider my young brother,” he said.

Traditional healers have not always been covered in glory, a fact that Ncube tries to correct with his pen. His novel Angilankani Lawe saw him take aim at fellow healers. 

“Most of the novels I write are about witchcraft and I wrote that one because of the ritual murders that were taking place at the time. It’s a practice that’s still ongoing now and so I was trying to teach people that they should work hard if they want success and not allow unscrupulous healers to use them for evil. I’m in the same field and so I know that it is really happening,” said the man whose career has spanned four decades. – Sunday News