African folklore is rich with stories of famous legends, morality tales, supernatural beings and mythical creatures. Yet they do seem to go unnoticed by the rest of the world.
In the spirit world Europe is famous for its sprites, fairies and goblins. South Africa has its very own version of a diminutive monster which has a reputation for being a source of chaos and terror.
The Tokoloshe is a well-known myth in South Africa, yet to many people it is more than a myth – it is a genuine cause for concern and fear.
The word ‘tokoloshe’ is Xhosa in origin and refers to a dwarf-life creature, an African version of the European sprite or brownie. SA’s foremost expert on African culture, the venerable Dr. Credo Mutwa describes the tokoloshe as resembling a ‘ghastly-looking teddy-bear with a hairy body with a sharp bony ridge on its head’. It’s also known to be so well-endowed that it actually carries its extremely long penis over its shoulder (I’m not making this up).
The tokoloshe is a malevolent creature that is said to be conjured up by powerful witchdoctors who use it to cause trouble and inflict terror upon their enemies or the enemies of their clients. In some South African households people still raise their beds up on bricks to prevent the midget-like creature from jumping on. Whether the existence of the Tokoloshe is true or not, the fact that peoples’ beliefs are influenced by this supernatural being cannot be denied. As a result it is often blamed for many disasters and misfortunes.
If I had to list all the murderers who have held the Tokoloshe responsible for the crimes they committed, I would need a couple of more blog posts to do so. I’ll highlight two famous cases for you though, one from the past and one currently making headlines.
During the years 1953 – 1955 one of SA’s most famous serial killers Elifasi Msomi, otherwise known as the Axe Killer, went on a killing spree, murdering 15 people (men, women and children) in the province of Kwa-Zulu Natal. He claimed that a tokoloshe sat on his shoulder ordering him to kill.
Msomi escaped twice from the police, attributing his lucky breaks to this evil demon. After each escape, he went on to kill more people before finally being captured for the last time. At his execution, the judge allowed the presence of no less than 9 Zulu chieftains to ensure that the tokoloshe did not save him from the hangman’s noose.
That case happened almost 60 years ago. I draw your attention now to a recent event that made headlines in our local newspapers.
On July 19th 2008, 29-year-old Nicolette Lotter stabbed her mother Maria to death, while her brother Hardus strangled their father Johannes. The siblings did not hesitate to confess. Nicolette’s boyfriend at the time, Matthew Naidoo, was also implicated in the murders. According to both brother and sister, Naidoo had considerable influence over them and convinced the siblings to kill their parents. According to Nicolette, he claimed to be the ‘Son of God’ and that their parents deserved to die.
In 2011, Nicolette Lotter dropped a bombshell, claiming that she had been sexually molested by a tokoloshe that often visited her at night. The attacks only stopped when she became intimate with Naidoo. Naidoo became her saviour so-to-speak. Nicolette also accused her domestic worker of practising witchcraft on her and causing her psychological distress. Both siblings were sentenced to 12 years in prison each while Naidoo was given a life sentence
Apart from murder and other crimes, the Tokoloshe has also been blamed for the spread of HIV Aids; and not just in South Africa but in other parts of the African continent as well. One report from Zimbabwe years back claimed that a great percentage of Aids counsellors in the country were convinced that the Tokoloshe visited women at night and raped them in their beds thus spreading the virus. (http://www.safarinewsreel.com/blog/?p=227)
On a personal note, the one thing that fascinates me about the myth of the tokoloshe is that its influence crosses cultural and racial boundaries. South Africa is a verifiable melting-pot. But with our turbulent past (consider racial segregation), belief in this little demon is not culturally exclusive. If you are South African or have affiliations with the country in some way, whatever your ethnicity, knowledge of the Tokoloshe is naturally assumed even if you do not believe in it.
If you are from SA and have a story to tell, please don’t hesitate! And if you are not, what do you think about this mischievous little devil of ours?
Don’t forget to check out the great links below for more information on the Tokoloshe!
Tokoloshe (1971) – starring Sid James, Mangosuthu Buthelezi
Blood Tokoloshe (2012) - dir. Jordan Harland
A Reasonable Man (1999) – starring Nigel Hawthorne, Gavin Hood
Tales of the Tokoloshe – Pieter Scholtz and Cherie Treweek (Struik Publishers)
The Tokoloshe Stone – Jay Heale (Tafelberg Publishers)
The Little Man – Nisha Moodley (unpublished) (Sorry, I couldn’t help a little bit of selfless self-promotion there, LOL)
‘Evil Boy’ (2010) – Die Antwoord (Cherrytree Records)
‘Hosh Tokoloshe’ (2011) – Jack Parow (Parowphernalia)
All info on the Lotter case taken from www.iol.co.za