South African traditional healers generally fulfill different social, cultural and political roles in South Africa. They handle a range of duties from like divination, physical healing, directing birth and death rituals, finding missing cattle, protecting warriors and lots more. The healers have until recently operated quite independently from the government although some work under governing structures like the Traditional Healers Organization with over 29,000 members, a number which goes to show the sheer bulk of traditional healers in South Africa.

Trad Healeer

2014 saw the passing of the Traditional Health Practitioners Act with the intent of standardizing and regulating the affairs of all Traditional healers. Again in late 2015, regulations were added and published to give effect to the act. After that, the government invited public reactions, with the act and proposed regulations receiving some heavy criticism by traditional healers who have deemed it in simple terminology, difficult to follow.

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The proposed regulations would require a registration by traditional healers before they will be allowed to practice. This would entail traditional healers providing R200 to apply to the council for a practicing certificate. The certificate by the way will only be issued if the registrar who is appointed by the health minister after consulting with the council, determines that the said traditional healer has met the requirements. Some of the requirements include;

  • Citizenship: The traditional healer must be a South African citizen
  • Character references: This will be required from people unrelated to the applicant
  • Proof of qualifications

A traditional healer from the city of Qwa Qwa in the Free State sings and prays for the former South African President Nelson Mandela on July 11, 2013 outside the MediClinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria. Mandela is responding to treatment but still in a critical condition, South African President Jacob Zuma said on July 10 after visiting the global peace icon in hospital. Mandela was rushed to a Pretoria hospital on June 8 over a recurring lung infection. AFP PHOTO / STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN

The act also makes provision for an interim council to provide a regulatory framework. That would mean that traditional healers will have to be registered and categorized according to varied specialties;

  • Diviners: In this group will be those who have a calling from ancestral spirits
  • Herbalist: Those in the practice of herbal medicine
  • Student: A trainee who is learning the ropes of traditional healing
  • Traditional birth attendants and a host of others

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Although I see endless advantages in this move foremost of which is ensuring quality care to a higher degree and the protection of the general public from quacks and swindlers, I would however tend to agree that the move may take away from them the mysticism and simplicity that seems to be inherent in traditional healing. The proposed regulations which also require; in keeping with universally accepted health care norms; education and training at accredited training institutions may likewise prove burdensome both financially and in regard to time spent fulfilling the requirements.sangoma

Done properly, this move by the government is set to be an excellent one, safe guarding both lives and property and giving structure to even the traditional healers who may sometimes be viewed almost illegitimately.