The nine-foot-long Burmese rock python was being used by a sangoma in a Cape Town township to communicate with the ancestors, to ask them to intercede in World Cup matches, said Sarah Scarth, spokesman for the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Cape Town.
“The Cape of Good Hope SPCA in Grassy Park rescued a Burmese Rock Python from a sangoma in Nyanga on 30 June 2010,” said SPCA regional spokeswoman Sarah Scarth. The snake was found in a poor state in a shack in Nyanga township where people visited the traditional doctor for consultations.
When the python, called 2010, was found, she had pneumonia, mouth-rot and was underweight and dehydrated. “The snake was living in totally unacceptable conditions and has since been taken to a specialist reptile veterinarian and is responding well to treatment,” SPCA spokesperson Sarah Scarth told the BBC.
“It is alleged that the snake was illegally transported from Natal to Cape Town specifically for the Fifa World Cup. The sangoma is alleged to have accepted money from soccer fans who requested that he communicates to the ancestors and appeal to them to allow their specific football team to progress in the game.”
On Monday, the Daily Sun reported that the sangoma Siyabonga Mthethwa, 25, said that he was “forced” to hand over the snake. “2010 is my snake and I will teach them a lesson. They say a black man can’t carry a snake,” said Siyabonga Mthethwa.
Mthethwa alleged that the SPCA was not familiar with sangomas. “Everything I said does not make sense to them.” Mthethwa said that the snake was “troublesome” when he was taken away. “I know that he will give them many problems. I will make him disappear or kill him in their care.”
He said the snake would not “last long” without him. “I know everything about his life. I will go home and bring all my other snakes and see what they will do then.”
The newspaper reported that Mthethwa owns eight other snakes, of which 2010 was the smallest. Wildlife Unit inspector and supervisor Brett Glasby said he believed the sangoma had seven snakes in all but that the others were in KwaZulu-Natal. Glasby said the relevant authorities had been notified about the snakes.
Many people throughout Africa pray to ancestors and believe they have the ability to change or influence the future. People will pay traditional doctors, known as sangomas in South Africa, to communicate to the ancestors on their behalf.
During rituals, animals are sacrificed to appease the ancestors but some traditional doctors use animals as mediums to communicate with them. “People were paying the sangoma to ask the ancestors to help the teams they support to advance in the tournament,” said Ms Scarth.
It is not clear which teams the snake was being asked to help. ‘2010’ snake was apparently transported from Natal to Gauteng specifically for the World Cup. But Ms Scarth said the sangoma surrendered the snake last week after her organisation visited his home.
No charges were laid against the sangoma but the SPCA said it is investigating how the snake was transported without the legal papers. Exotic animals cannot be transported without the legal paperwork authorising their transit.