- In African medicine, sangomas have a bigger role to play than merely casting love spells, “doing” penis enlargements and finding lost lovers, says Dr Zukiswa Mvoko.
- Mvoko tells Health For Mzansi that traditional healing is multifaceted and makes use of sacred practices including the use of indigenous medicine to heal communities.
- Despite their role in our communities, the experience of the traditional health and those with “the calling” can be harrowing, writes Health For Mzansi journalist Vateka Halile. She ventured from Centane in the Eastern Cape to Cape Town kasi communities and spoke to sangomas and healers who shared their experiences.
What is the role of traditional healers?
Lukholo Solanga is a traditional healer from Makhaza in Cape Town. Spiritually he is called Hombelithongo and believes that herbalists, traditional healers, traditional birth attendants, and traditional surgeons, play a vital role in society. To heal communities, spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
“Traditional healers play the guidance of the community, in terms of spirituality, the connection with the ancestors, leading certain rituals, encouraging and motivating people to follow their culture and understand who they are, their backgrounds as African people,” he says.
“The other role is to be an active member of the community. People in Mzansi turned to traditional health healers when the Covid-19 first struck. As a result, it is up to traditional health healers to advise people to go to clinics and get tested – whether it is for tuberculosis, HIV, or another disease – if there is a need to play a health role in the community.”
“So, meaning there are forums where the traditional health practitioners come together. I think it’s where the community is supposed to be collaborating with a traditional health practitioner. I suppose those forums are organised structures,” Solanga says.
Healers should be dignified
It can be a harrowing experience for traditional healers and those with the [ubungoma or ubugqirha] calling in Mzansi, says Muzi Canca, a traditional healer from Centane in the Eastern Cape. Above all else, it is important to understand that healers do not adhere to the confines of religions, she adds.
Canca believes that their role is to heal the country. “Our role in society should not be defined by which religion one adheres to, but rather by what one needs to do as an individual and responsible citizen.”
She is traditionally called Khanyis’amathongo, and is the co-founder of Imfihlakalo yama Afrika traditional church, in Centane, a settlement in the Amathole district of the Eastern Cape.
Forming part of society
Hombelithongo points out ways in which traditional healers can collaborate with society. He says traditional health practitioners should form part of the community structures; clinic committees, street committees, and the developments that are taking place in the community.
“I think that traditional practitioners should stop being so secretive about lots of things, so that they allow people to invite people to approach them, as well as question things they do not have knowledge of,” explains Solanga.
How people carry themselves and behave as traditional healers is very important, says Ayamangalisa Badli, a traditional healer in New Cross Road, Cape Town.
According to Badli, healers are also mediators. Therefore, people go to traditional healers to seek guidance as to what and how to do certain things in their lives.
Do not be frightened
Badli believes that people are slowly going back to their roots. “With changing times, our ancestors are showing themselves. Which is why we see young people in their traditional attire going to work and school. As modernised people, we see things, unlike the old generation, which was running from their calling because of stigma.
“It is common to see people uncomfortable when they see us traditional healers in our attires, I guess it is because they are scared that we might say sizakuvukwa lidlozi or do funny things to people. It is not like that. We are now changing the narrative that we must stay indoors and live in fear as if we’re doing something wrong by being traditional healers,” says Badli.
Mvoko adds that people need to unlearn the narrative that all traditional healers are evil, and only then would they grasp how vital having a traditional healer in the community is.
“Indigenous medicine should be the key point of approach, and the Western should be the alternative. The way it has been done is the opposite, we need to correct that mindset,” she explains.
Indigenous herbs key
According to Afro-American and African studies professor Adam Ashford, “‘muthi’ is thought to be the oldest and most varied of all healing practices.”
“Western medicines and powders come from plants. The plant comes first, then the leaves which are ground. You add whatever and you have produced a pill. Why are we then thinking that the key lies in Western Medicine? The key is our indigenous herbs. Indigenous medicine should be our lifestyle,” Mvoko concludes.