Sunday Times

Heal­ers’ le­gal limbo feels ‘dis­re­spect­ful’

- By SIPOKAZI FOKAZI Belgium · Belarus · Cape Town · Iceland · Austria · Free State · KwaZulu-Natal · North-West University · Colombia

● Even as a child, Anita “No­ma­langa” Sikhutshwa knew she was dif­fer­ent. While friends played hap­pily in her Transkei vil­lage, she was a loner with dis­turb­ing vi­sions and pre­mon­i­tory dreams.

“No­body un­der­stood the dreams and the rev­e­la­tions that I had. I also didn’t un­der­stand what I was go­ing through,” she said.

It was only a year ago, at the age of 29, hav­ing ob­tained a diploma in pub­lic re­la­tions and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, that Sikhutshwa ac­cepted her ubizo (call­ing) to be an igqirha (tra­di­tional doc­tor/healer).

She gave up her well-paid job and found her­self alien­ated by fam­ily mem­bers to fol­low her call­ing but, as she cel­e­brated her int­waso (spir­i­tual emer­gence) in Cape Town this week, Sikhutshwa faced a de­press­ing re­al­ity: four years af­ter the de­part­ment of health es­tab­lished a statu­tory body to reg­u­late tra­di­tional heal­ers, it has yet to sign up even one of SA’s 200,000-plus prac­ti­tion­ers.

Sikhutshwa said the de­part­ment’s fail­ure showed “bla­tant dis­re­spect”.

“The lack of ur­gency is a direct re­flec­tion of how they view the mat­ter as an in­sti­tu­tion,” she said. “If the gov­ern­ment was truly for the peo­ple it would deal with such matters with ur­gency.”

De­part­ment of health spokesper­son Popo Maja said the in­terim Tra­di­tional Health Prac­ti­tion­ers Coun­cil, es­tab­lished by par­lia­ment in 2014, was still fi­nal­is­ing in­sti­tu­tional ar­range­ments. “Reg­is­ter­ing tra­di­tional health prac­ti­tion­ers as part of reg­u­lat­ing the prac­tice needs to be pre­ceded by de­vel­op­ment and adop­tion of tools such as a code of con­duct and ethics, and scope of prac­tice for each cat­e­gory [of prac­ti­tioner],” he said.

One of the pro­posed reg­u­la­tions will re­quire heal­ers to un­dergo train­ing at an ac­cred­ited in­sti­tu­tion. Prospec­tive train­ers will also be re­quired to reg­is­ter with the coun­cil.

Thobeka Ken­tane, deputy gen­eral sec­re­tary of the Na­tional Uni­tary Pro­fes­sional As­so­ci­a­tion for Tra­di­tional Health Prac­ti­tion­ers of SA, de­scribed the ap­proach be­ing taken as Euro­cen­tric.

“Un­like Western medicine … tra­di­tional heal­ing looks at so­cial, cul­tural and spir­i­tual as­pects. So far, the reg­u­la­tions deal with the phys­i­cal heal­ing only … and we dis­agree with that ap­proach.”

Maja said the coun­cil’s com­mit­tees and reg­is­trar, Kgereshi Peter Mok­wena, were en­gag­ing with tra­di­tional heal­ers be­fore fi­nal reg­u­la­tions were pro­claimed. So far, heal­ers in the North West, Free State and Mpumalanga have been con­sulted.

Up to now tra­di­tional heal­ers — who in­clude birth at­ten­dants, sur­geons who per­form cir­cum­ci­sions, di­vin­ers and herbal­ists — have op­er­ated rel­a­tively free from gov­ern­ment in­ter­fer­ence and have or­gan­ised them­selves un­der um­brella struc­tures.

Re­search has es­ti­mated that be­tween 60% and 80% of South Africans try tra­di­tional heal­ing be­fore turn­ing to Western medicine.

A study in ru­ral ar­eas of KwaZulu-Na­tal found at least 41% of TB pa­tients had used tra­di­tional heal­ers be­fore Western medicine; 84% would rather have a tra­di­tional healer than a pub­lic health su­per­vi­sor mon­i­tor their treat­ment; and 40% had seen a healer at some point be­fore their di­ag­no­sis.

Christa Raut­en­bach, a pro­fes­sor of law at

No­body un­der­stood the dreams and the rev­e­la­tions that I had. I also didn’t un­der­stand what I was go­ing through Anita Sikhutshwa

North-West Univer­sity who has re­searched cus­tom­ary law and tra­di­tional heal­ers for 20 years, said con­cerns about hav­ing to study and ob­tain qual­i­fi­ca­tions were un­der­stand­able, since heal­ers re­ceived their call­ing from their an­ces­tors.

“On the other hand, there seems to be no other prac­ti­cal way to en­sure the mon­i­tor­ing of [heal­ers] and the con­se­quent pro­tec­tion of the pub­lic.”

Phep­hisile Maseko, na­tional co-or­di­na­tor of the Tra­di­tional Heal­ers Or­gan­i­sa­tion, crit­i­cised the make-up of the reg­u­la­tory body, say­ing that with nine heal­ers among its 22 mem­bers “there are more sci­en­tists, phar­ma­cists, lawyers and de­part­ment staff than tra­di­tional heal­ers”.

 ?? Pic­ture: Esa Alexan­der ?? Anita Sikhutshwa, a tra­di­tional healer from Wood­stock, Cape Town, left a well-paid job to fol­low the call­ing she could no longer ig­nore.
Pic­ture: Esa Alexan­der Anita Sikhutshwa, a tra­di­tional healer from Wood­stock, Cape Town, left a well-paid job to fol­low the call­ing she could no longer ig­nore.

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