In my post about rape and the possible influence a Sangoma might have had on the rapist and his decision to rape a young girl, believing that sex with a virgin will cure him of AIDS. Sangomas used to have huge influence on the tribal life of Zulus in the past. There are some who claim that the Sangoma's influence was mainly beneficial and that they were a force of good in society.
Here is an excerpt from Donald R Morris's book, The Washing of the spears.
Witchcraft was universal. All illness, and indeed all evil, was caused by abaThakathi - wizards who made use of primal forces. An umThakathi was disembodied, and might inhabit an animal or plant or even a rock while blighting the neighborhood. It frequently inhabited a human being-anyone but a witch doctor or a chieftain, who was actually an umThakathi (but a benign one) himself. The unfortunate host would be quite unaware of the parasite until a witch doctor pointed it out; witch doctors could smell abaThakathi.
An accusation of witchcraft was fatal; one a wizard had been smelled, no defence was possible, and because the host was quite unwitting, no plea of ignorance, purity of action, or innocence of intention could stand. Whenever the presence of an umThakathi was suspected, the chieftain would summon the entire male membership of the clan, which assembled in a large circle with the witch doctors in the centre. These worthies, bedaubed with clay and bedecked with outlandish ornaments had long since worked themselves into a frothing frenzy of concentration. They slowly strutted around the circle, chanting a single word to a low counterpoint from the clan. They paused in front of each man, sniffing and howling, passing on and suddenly darting back to terrorize anew someone just starting to breath again, and as a really likely prospect was approached, the chant would rise in volume. The clan might think the rising volume was the witch doctors making, but they in turn were merely sounding out public opinion, cleverly reinforcing nuances of sound until they were certain their choice met with popular approval - a rich but miserly kraal head, or the transgressor of some social taboo. The witch doctors would pass him and return, until finally they were leaping and screaming before some poor wretch on his knees. Bounding clean over him, the flicked him with a gnu's tail, whereupon he was at once dragged off to have sharpened stakes pounded up his rectum, while an impi was dispatched to exterminate his family root and branch, destroy his crops, and burn his kraal. His cattle were simply added to the royal herd with, of course, a cut to the witch doctors. .....
....Witch doctors also waxed fat on private practise. They were called in as consultants for every form of minor crises, and rarely failed to secure the payment of at least a goat. The vicious grip in which they held the people was made possible by an implicit and universal belief in magic; not even the victim of a smelling out was indignant. He might register horror or fear or remorse, but not even in his final painful moments did he doubt the existence of the wizard that had possessed him.
Sangomas are actually Shamans, and in the follower of the New Age movement, Shamans are seen as something positive and good. Sangomas might not have the power they used to have but they still have a great influence in many parts of Africa. Every year you hear of muthi murders. These are murders committed to obtain certain human body parts for the purposes of making powerful medicine. Children are often the victims of these murders. Every year people are killed because they are suspected of being wizards.
Sangomas, Shamans, call them what you will all have their roots in the same darkness.
In the Western World today there is a growing interest in magic, the occult and the practise thereof. Will we in the future see a return to those old practices of the Druids which were similar to those of the Sangomas?
In South Africa today there is a growing number of initiated white Sangomas, and they have a loyal white following. Some practise overseas, giving lectures on drumming and chanting to call up the ancestral spirits.