01 October 2012 by Julienne du Toit

Willowmore’s healer – a tribute

If you’re travelling fast, you tend to only see the most promoted tourism spots. But that means you miss out on so much. If you spend more time, you’ll get under the skin of a place, and meet fascinating people.

One of the delights of slow travel is the chance to meet memorable people.

When I mentioned to a friend that I was heading to Willowmore again, she said I simply had to meet Auntie Sophia September, a healer who used herbs from the surrounding Karoo veld. Everyone just called her Auntie Souf’.

Like most people in South Africa’s Karoo, Auntie Souf’ was happy to meet strangers at her home and to spend time chatting. She was in her mid-80s. Apart from a bad limp (she’d fallen in the bath, she told me with a faint air of indignation), she was in vibrant health. This she ascribed to the Karoo’s medicinal plants.

In the late afternoon sun, we sat on her stoep as she told us about plants and her gift for healing. 'When you are asking what to use, you touch the plant. Then you feel that joy, that gladness rising in you. That joy is the answer, and the answer is yes.

'Now a plant is like a child. You must know how to hold it. And when it has given you what you asked, you must thank the plant. You must speak to it, as you would to a person.

'Another way I am answered is if I ask the question about how to heal. Then I look back, and the first bossie (little bush) my eye falls upon, that is the one.”

Auntie Sophia said she taught herself about the Karoo bossies. She would sell little packets of them to cure all ills. She was visited by people from all over the country, of all persuasions and races. Even doctors from Johannesburg, she told me proudly.

I asked her more about her health and her visible air of well-being. She told me she was healthy and whole because she didn’t drink or smoke, and she lived with 'soft-hearted people'.

You feel that joy, that gladness rising in you. That joy is the answer, and the answer is yes.

'At night we are quiet here, my daughters and I. Before we sleep, we kneel. We invite Him in – He, the only One who knows what lies on the other side of the dark night.'

None of her daughters had her healing gift, she said. 'So many people can’t see it, they are helpless. They know nothing, they see nothing.

'But one of my grandchildren, a 13-year-old girl, she has the gift...'

• Auntie Sophia died 2 years ago.

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