Updated 14 August 2015

The dangers of eating snakes, hair and cloth

The infamous Gauteng pastor, Penuel Tsepo Mnguni, has caused outrage after he encouraged his congregation to eat hair and snakes. How dangerous is it to eat these objects?


The controversial Soshanguve pastor has brought the ire of various groups upon him, not only for deceiving the members of his congregation, but also for alleged cruelty to animals.

According to the Daily Mail, the self-styled "prophet" was arrested after South Africa's biggest animal charity, the SPCA tipped off police that pastor Penual Mnguni fed the congregation snakes and rat tails.

Unacceptable things

SPCA inspector Andrew Kekana told the Daily Mail that Mnguni had caught protected snakes from the bush near the End Times Disciples Ministries Church in Shoshanguve, north of Pretoria.

"He was doing a lot of things that were unacceptable, both to his congregation and the snakes," he told MailOnline.

The controversial pastor is self-proclaimed prophet Penual Mnguni, the leader of the End Times Disciples Ministries in Soshanguve in Gauteng.

He also happens to be an understudy of pastor Lesego Daniel, who famously made his followers eat grass in January 2014.

Pasltor Mnguni has his congregation refer to him as a Man of God and, ostensibly through the power of prayer, persuaded them that a snake is in fact chocolate, as was alluded to in a comment on the church’s Facebook page.

The Man of God declared a snake to become a chocolate and the congregants ate it. We have authority to change everything into anything and it will obey because of our authority,” read one comment from a committed churchgoer.

Image: a member of the End Times Disciples Ministries eats a snake. Image: End Times Disciples Ministries.

What are the health implications of eating a snake?

ScienceDaily says a study published in the International Journal of Food Microbiology shows that people can catch certain diseases such as trichinosis, pentastomiasis, gnathostomiasis and sparganosis by eating snakes.

Snakes are also hosts to parasites, bacteria and viruses.

The lead author of the study, Simone Magnino, said that the biggest risk comes from bacteria such as Salmonella and Shigella, Escherichia coli, Yersinia enterolitica, Campylobacter, Clostridium and Staphylococcus aureus, which can cause illnesses of varying degrees of severity.

Abdominal cramping and pain, diarrhoea (sometimes bloody), nausea and vomiting, as well as fever are all symptoms of these kinds of bacterial infection.

And not to mention, a live snake can give you a nasty bite, which could be venomous.

The pastor also had a follower bite off a rat's tail. Rats can give humans Hantavirus Pulmonary syndrome –  a severe, sometimes fatal, respiratory disease in humans. They can also contract murine typhus from the fleas that live on rats. Then there is rat-bite fever, salmonella, enterica serovar, typhimurium, leptospirosis and eosinophilic meningtitis.

Read: 7 Cool facts about snakes we bet you didn't know

Hair eating has become the latest in Pastor Mnguni’s prayer-powered acts. A woman from the congregation named Thabelo was selected by the pastor and he lay his hands on her. Then, Thabelo’s weave was removed from her head and passed around among several female churchgoers who ate parts of it.

The caption underneath photos of the event read thus: "Man of God held the head of woman of God Thapelo from Mabopane and her hair turned into food for the sons and daughters of God to eat. Everything depends on what we say because we carry life in our tongue."

Image: a member of the End Times Disciples Ministries eats a piece of a synthetic weave. Image: End Times Disciples Ministries.

What are the health implications of eating hair?

Popular Science says hair is not toxic and you can safely eat a couple of strands of human hair a day. But if you did that for years on end, or if you ate a whole head of hair in a sitting, it would create long clumps of hair called trichobezoars – more commonly known as a hairballs – to form in your stomach, causing abdominal pain.

The Trichotillomania Free Healing Centre in the US (a support group for those struggling with hair pulling) say symptoms of trichobezoars include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes blood and/or visible hairs in the stool.

Trichobezoars can also cause foul breath, poor appetite, constipation, diarrhoea, excessive gas, bowel obstruction, and even bowel perforation.

Trichobezoars are diagnosed using special upper gastrointestinal X-rays, looking into the stomach with an endoscope, or using ultrasound, and they may need to be surgically removed, as they can obstruct the digestive tract and cause ulcers and bleeding.

However, if the churchgoers ate Thabelo's weave, it may be more dangerous as weaves or extensions are mostly made of synthetic fibres, made of polyester or acrylic materials, that are either bleached or dyed, and contain numerous, unknown chemicals. The bleaches and dyes can be toxic, and ingesting strands of the weave can also cause trichobezoars, just like human hair does. There is also a chocking hazard.

As if that's not enough, the glue used to bond the artificial strands may contain high concentrations of a soluble latex antigen, which can cause anaphylaxis if it comes into contact with the mucous in your mouth.

You could also pick up a staph infection if a staph bacteria is present on the hair – both natural and artificial hair.

At some point during his sermons the pastor persuaded members to eat a piece of cloth. Chewed or ingested non-food objects may be poisonous and can cause  life-threatening intestinal blockage while thin lengths of fabric can get caught in the loops of intestine.

News24 reports, members of the EFF (Economic Freedom Front) tried to force the pastor to eat rodents and snakes, like he did with the members of his congregation, and, although they deny it, have burnt down a tent used for church services. 

The SA Council of Churches will investigate the practices at End Times Disciples Ministries.

Read more:

Charming snakes

Become a snake wrangler

The church above the sex shop


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