12/04/2017 05:06 BST | Updated 17/04/2017 06:53 BST

My Atheism Was A Disease That Almost Devoured My Soul Until I Found My Calling

For too long, what was important to me was the need to wear my intellect like the feathers of a peacock, writes the political analyst and sangoma.

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For 30 years, I ran away from my destiny until it caught up with me in 2013, writes political analyst, former activist and sangoma Aubrey Matshiqi.

I grew up in the Anglican Church. That is where I was baptised and confirmed. But, that is not where I felt the presence of God. A friend mine took me to a Mosque in Cape Town and, there too, I did not hear God's voice.

The day I felt the presence of God finally was in a Hindu temple, and I did not want to leave.

My wife and I had gone to the wedding of her Tamil friend and colleague. The groom was a black Cuban. Because of the religious, cultural and racial differences between the bride and the groom, only the friends of the future wife and husband were at the wedding. Both families boycotted the wedding. For me, therefore, the wedding was sweet sorrow. It was sorrowful because of the absence of the two families and even more sad because when we left the temple we went to celebrate at a restaurant.

It was sweet because it is at the temple that God found me.

At the time, I was an atheist and believed quite strongly in the materialist conception of consciousness. In addition, I was a Marxist-Leninist and a former gun-carrying member of the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party.

Today, I am what people call a traditional healer. I am a sangoma.

To be honest, though, my atheism was an intellectual condition –- a disease that started attacking my spirit when I was in my early 20s and it almost devoured my soul –- a time in my life when my intellect was the most important dimension of my being. For too long, what was important to me was the need to wear my intellect like the feathers of a peacock. I had to prove to others that I was intellectually sophisticated and could, therefore, grasp heavy intellectual matters such as historical materialism, post-modernism, deconstruction and post-structuralism.To be an atheist was the highest form of intellectualism. I was a fake.

I was a fake because at no point in my life was I ever completely convinced that God does not exist. While I still believe that we create God in our image, the highest form of atheism I ever achieved was to doubt God's existence without being completely convinced he/she does not exist (I believe God is neither male nor female and to humanise God is to limit, not to enhance, our understanding of the divine).

Curiously, though, I never doubted the existence of izinyanya (the ancestors). I was a fake atheist who believed in izinyanya despite the fact that I grew up in a modern, urban and Christian family which did not venerate amadlozi (the ancestors). In fact, my paternal grandfather was a university professor in America and my mother's maternal grandmother, uMamKhuma, qualified as a teacher in 1901. That is the kind of family I come from. This notwithstanding, my ancestors started announcing their presence in my life before I started going to school. As a sangoma, I now know that I was born umntu omhlophe which translates into "a white person" but actually means umntwana wezinyanya -– a child of the ancestors.

As a sangoma, I now know that my calling is something I was born into because my childhood dreams, which showed that I walked with the spirits of the water, were dreams about me and the sea. I started having them long before I saw the sea with my own eyes at the age of ten. As I grew older, I realised, and this my parents realised much later, that I could see things about people and events before they happened. So, I knew I was odd but did not know why until I had an interesting encounter with a traditional healer we used to visit before we went on any mission of Umkhonto weSizwe (MK).

The only time we went on a mission without consulting him first, we were captured by the South African Defence Force. It is the same traditional healer who, 30 years ago, told me about my calling. For thirty years, I ran away from my destiny until it caught up with me in 2013. The twists and turns of my spiritual journey cannot be told in a single article. With the benefit of spiritual hindsight, I now know that the sound of the drum at the Tamil temple transported me to a place where I met God and my ancestors, but it was many years later, in 2013, that I understood what the drum was saying. I was born to be a healer. I was born to be a sangoma.

My journey has been long. It will never end. It is eternal. It is eternal because birth is not a beginning and death is not the end. As a sangoma, I know that there is only life. Death does not exist.

Aubrey Matshiqi is an independent political analyst. In his life he has been involved in the ANC, Umkhonto Wesizwe, the student movement and the South African Communist Party. He began training to be a sangoma in 2013.

The Huffington Post South Africa is delving into what faith and spirituality means to South Africans here and now. Against the backdrop of a renewed wave of thought around decolonisation, a new generation is rediscovering its traditional beliefs, while some are reconciling with Christianity. On another note, we tell South Africa's real good news story: our remarkable and peaceful religious diversity. In a world fractured along religious extremism, we have a large Christian population with significant Muslim and Jewish communities, who often come together peacefully and with purpose, as has been evinced at the memorials for departed struggle stalwart, Ahmed Kathrada. Read the rest of the special report here, or choose from our selection below:

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