Tormented by Umnyama: An Urban Cosmology of Migration and Misfortune in Inner-City Johannesburg

  • Melekias ZuluEmail author
  • Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon
Part of the Peace Psychology Book Series book series (PPBS, volume 24)


Umnyama in isiZulu and isiNdebele is a polysemous term—it literally means “darkness” but also refers to misfortune or contagion. In this chapter, it is argued that the concept of umnyama—and the semantically related isinyama and ubunyama—is central to understanding both the social, economic and spiritual insecurities of migrant life in inner-city Johannesburg. Umnyama is not only a conceptual trope but also a subjective experience arising from social and economic hardship, exposure to diseased spaces, distance from ancestral homes and exposure to spiritual and occult threats including witchcraft. The chapter explores these themes through studying migrant life-worlds in the city: the forms of misfortune and insecurity that many face. The chapter then traces how these are dealt with across diverse healing strategies involving traditional healers, Zionist rituals and prophetic churches. Through these case studies it is argued that the concept of umnyama allows us to deconstruct the division between the material and metaphysical experiences of the urban migrant. Ethnographic analysis of umnyama also allows us to document the connection between the daily life conditions of many migrants in the city and religious ritual, showing that ritual and healing practices are closely embedded in daily insecurities.


Traditional Healer Good Fortune Faith Healer Holy Water Social Upward Mobility 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.African Centre for Migration & SocietyUniversity of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa

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