Twenty Ten (Pietermaritzburg)

South Africa/Cameroon: Potency of Witchcraft

The phenomenon of witchcraft in football resurfaced as a hot topic of debate in the Cameroonian media after Cameroon were eliminated from the 2010 World Cup. This situation has whipped up doubts as to the potency of witchdoctors who were part of the Cameroonian delegation.

During the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, one of Africa's supposed strongest contenders, Cameroon, had a strong team of witchdoctors in their delegation. However, the Indomitable Lions were one of the first teams to be sacked from the competition.

In the aftermath of their elimination, many Cameroonians joined in what has become a national debate on the Lions' failure to proceed to the second round.

In the streets of Yaounde and in drinking spots around the government ministries, there is passionate debate on why the government allocated huge sums of money to the players, staff and a number of witchdoctors in the delegation, only for them to put on a poor performance.

The debate even reached the Cameroon National Assembly at the end of its June session. During the heated plenary session, Hon. Abakar Mahamat from the Logon and Shari constituency of the far north region, expressed the bitterness of Cameroonians. He sought to know why the Lions put up such a dismal performance after huge sums of tax payers' money were disbursed to the team, what happened to the balance of the money and what measures could be taken to take the Lions and football out of the abyss.

The question to the Sport Minister was hinged on the fact that the performance of players was not commensurate to huge sums spent for the 2010 South African trip.

Answering the parliamentarians, the Minister of Sports and Physical Education, Michel Zoah on July 2, declared that, "witchcraft, besides mysticism, internal wrangling, jealousy and disorder was the cause of the Lions debacle".

The declaration seems to confirm allegations of a witchdoctor, Adamou Amadou, at the Melen Market neighbourhood in Yaoundé who claims that, "players always consult witchdoctors whenever their performance seems to fade, as was the case with the Lions' striker Samuel Eto'o Fils. He had to go to Gashiga in Garoua to regain his ability to play again".

The witchcraft debate has taken a wider dimension owing to the fact that witchdoctors were part of the official delegation to the African Cup of Nations in Angola and recently in South Africa, unlike in the past when they were hardly noticed.

Jean Calvin, a journalist, confirms that he was lodged in the same hotel room with a witchdoctor called Dr. Eli, in Angola whose behaviour was "absurd."

"He carried about a box of matches but does not smoke, lit candles in broad daylight and was seen in the company of weird persons," Calvin said about the witchdoctor. It was therefore an open secret amongst journalists that witchdoctors like Dr. Eli were amongst the juju men present in South Africa.

These witchdoctors were given special treats using tax payers' money. They received transportation fare, accommodation, and it is rumoured that they got the same 45million FRS as the players. Government officials have, however, denied such allegations. They did, though, receive an allowance from the Ministry of Sports like every member of the delegation and not the football federation.

Cameroonians have expressed indignation at the squandering of public funds and questioned the importance of witchdoctors if they could not use their magic in Cameroon's favour.

A famous Indomitable Lions photographer, Ebanga Maurice, who covered the World Cup, exclaimed after the Cameroonians lost to Denmark in Tshwane, Pretoria, "Look at them, heads down in shame, what is the use of witch doctors if they cannot deliver the goods?" he said, booing the witch doctors.

Claiming that he was not aware of the witchdoctors at Lions' Oyster Box Hotel in Umhlanga in Durban, the Team Press Officer, Linus Pascal Fouda acknowledges that they were part of the delegation, presented to him as the federation's administrators. But he questions, "What were they doing and what purpose did they serve?"

Many have wondered why church services were organised to pray for the Lions on the eve and on departure to South Africa at the Yaounde Nsimalen Airport only to fall back on witchdoctors.

Why did the witchdoctors fail in South Africa?

Many Cameroonians like Essambe Livinus who hails from the Southwest region known for witchcraft practices, point to the fact that the selection of witchdoctors that travelled to South Africa was based on influence, relationship and kickbacks for their mentors.

Adamou, the witchdoctor who claims to have spent six months under the waters of River Benue in the northern region, seems to agree, "Witchdoctors from the south region of the country are selected even if they do not possess any powers".

Adamou seems to hold to the fact that witchdoctors are of different calibres. Those from the north, Bassas and Bamelikes, are held in high esteem, though he chips in, "If I had been contacted, Cameroon would have gone to the quarter finals".

Witchcraft practices seem to have taken Cameroonian society hostage as Essambe Livinus confirms that witchcraft is not just in football.

"Ahead of cabinet shake up, government officials indulge in witchcraft practices such as sleeping in the cemetery and at the municipal lake to be appointed to ministerial positions," he says.

But has black magic ever worked in football?

Adamou, the witchdoctor, is confident that black magic works for football. He narrates how such practices work, "All I need to do is have a name of one player from the opposite side and I either make them fall, unable to run, tie their legs, or have the opponents miss their balls". He further boosts, "I made Kameni, the Lions' goalkeeper, move to France. I equally work for the presidency".

However, the power of magic in football is gradually waning and Cameroonians are now realising that football scores cannot be manipulated by incantations and magic.

If Cameroon had gone beyond the first round to the semi-finals stage, many like Adamou would have tapped their feet and beaten their chest that they had done it.

Essambe Livinus thinks that technology is the best witchdoctor as, "matches can now be viewed critically for a better evaluated taking into account speed, techniques to counter the opponent." To him, society has evolved and there is need to abandon certain practices.

Leocadia Jisi Bonbeng is a Sports Reporter at The Post Newspaper in Cameroon.

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