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Page last updated at 15:17 GMT, Thursday, 9 September 2004 16:17 UK

Healers licensed in South Africa

Traditional healer in Mozambique
Many western drugs come from herbs used by traditional healers

A bill to regulate South Africa's 200,000 traditional healers has been adopted by parliament.

Healers will have to be licensed before being allowed to work.

Breaking these rules will be punished by a fine or a prison sentence of up to 12 months.

Some 70% of South Africans consult healers, known as sangomas, the health ministry says.

"This practice has suffered degradation

during years of colonialisation in Africa, but traditional medicine has sustained many families for centuries in this continent," Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang during the parliamentary session.

"This is an equally important bill for national health care. It will create a framework for cooperation between mainstream health practice and traditional healing," she said.

Except for one abstention, the bill received the full support of parliamentarians. Before it becomes law it needs to be passed by the second chamber of parliament and the president.

Human sacrifice

Many healers use herbs and some of these have been proven to be effective and have been used as the basis of medicines marketed by western pharmaceutical companies.

But some witchdoctors have been known to recommend the use of human body parts to make magic charms to bring luck or success.

And some are blamed for helping spread Aids by advising patients that it can be cured by having sex with a virgin.

The licensing of traditional healers will have a negative impact on the economy of South Africa,
Doctors for Life International

This has led to a spate of child-rapes in South Africa, some of babies just a few months old.

South Africa has one of the highest numbers of HIV-positive people in the world - some 5.3m, or one in nine of the population.

'Overdue'

Opinion is divided on the Traditional Health Practitioners' Bill.

The Traditional Healers Organisation welcomes the move to recognise its members as "long overdue".

National coordinator Phephsile Maseko said healers can play a positive role to play in the fight against Aids.

The South African Medical Association says the legislation will ensure safety standards, reports AFP news agency.

But Doctors for Life International, which represents some 600 medical practitioners says healers should not be given official recognition, as there was no proof that their remedies were effective.

The body also fears that healers would be able to issue "sick notes" and this could be open to abuse.

"The licensing of traditional healers will have a negative impact on the economy of South Africa, with regards to giving people time off work for long periods, as often required by the 'ancestral spirits'," the group said in a statement.

What do you think - should traditional healers be recognised? Or should they be banned? Have you consulted a healer? Are you a sangoma? Send us your experiences using the form below.

A selection of your views will be broadcast on BBC Focus on Africa at 17.00 GMT on Saturday 11 September 2004.


The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

I think traditional doctors should be recognised however, care should be exercised since there is no independent and standard mechanism to separate real and bogus ones. The majority of them know nothing about ethics.
Keobine Rantlole, Gaborone, Botswana

Traditional healers could be helpful, if the crooks were separated from the genuine practitioners, because the latter possess a wealth of knowledge about medicinal herbs that could form a link between them and pharmacologists and biochemists.
Ricky Kambo, Nairobi, Kenya

This is licensing unprofessional practices.
John, Nairobi, Kenya

I wonder if this new legislation will go so far as to protect the knowledge of traditional healers. So often it happens that new medicines are discovered directly as a result of traditional healers knowledge. The medicines are patented and sold on to the west generating massive profits. Needless to say the traditional healers seldom receive any of these profits, nor do they even receive acknowledgment of their enormous contribution.
Andrew, Devon, England

As a South African pharmacist I have witnessed first hand the damage that these people do, especially in the rural areas. Regulation is never going put an end to centuries of a practice based in superstition, urban legend and hearsay. Threats of fines and prison sentences will only drive it further underground adversely affecting even more lives every year.
Craig H, London, UK

Definitely recognise sangomas, they've been on our earth for longer than any 'western' pharmaceuticals
Adz, Rome, Italy

The healers should most definitely be recognised and should have some sort of regulation in place. The healers are part of African culture and should therefore have the right to play a part in the new South Africa. However the healers should not be able to issue 'sick leave' or if so for a maximum of two days, if the illness requires further sick leave he should be advised to see a GP. This may seem a contradiction in terms but I think both the healers and the medical practitioners need to come to some compromise and putting a limit on the sick leave is one way. Also with having a register with all licensed healers the health services can easily contact the healers and send them information on Aids and other serious illnesses and so better educating them. Two options recognise them and have better control over their activities or ban them and have them go underground with no control.
Jason, South African in Paris, France

In the current state of this "profession" there is very little difference between these healers and conmen. They prey on the less educated in the African communities. Charging exorbitant fees, they trap their "patients" in a cycle of misery and hopelessness as they keep demanding various "sacrifices" in order to be healed. Strict regulations are required to limit the number of these individuals to the bare minimum.
Ali, Port Elizabeth, South Africa

The root of traditional healing through so called 'sangomas' has it's foundations in witchcraft. I am disappointed at the fact that the South African government does not see how much harm this will do to the country in the long run. If they legislate traditional healers - they will open the flood gates to more demonic forces, as if Africa needs more than it already has. At least we know where scientists get their knowledge from. Does the South African government know where sangomas get their so called 'divine' knowledge and power from? Why do you think Africa has not advanced since colonial rule - belief in Witchcraft powers is part of the problem. Please South Africa - do not destroy our country, we have come a long way.
Phumla, USA

I believe that the concept of African traditional healers is a double sided coin. It appears the South African government is taking the right step by making legislation to register traditional healers. There is no doubt that many do have esoteric knowledge of herbs, roots etc and their application and usage in curing or preventing illness. Even selling back these modified products at inflated prices. Many are charlatans whilst others are offering a service which actually erodes African society and no doubt is effectively a criminal activity. By monitoring and controlling these healers a lot could be done to prevent this unsavoury aspect.
Nana Kwansah, London, UK

I have some experience in dealing with the so called traditional healers as I once consulted them and have interviewed many who have been involved in witchcraft as traditional healer. The truth is, it is from the devil, it is ugly, they tell nothing but lies, they divide people and there is nothing positive. People consult traditional healers for various reasons for example: Want to become rich: You will be told to go and kill (bewitch them) your close relatives, like mother, father, brother or sister and they will tell to have sex with your mother or sister. Or even asked to bring fresh human organs or the whole body. NOTE you will never be told to go and work hard. You are ill: You will always be told someone have bewitch you for what ever reason. This causes suspicions and people end up hating each other. All is based on lies. How will the government regulate this? If you are told the spirit says this, how will you know it is true or not?
Simon H Patoko, Namibia

It works - traditional medicine works. When I got sick in 1990, but the medications given by the doctor made the pain worse. I would be dead had it not been for the local medicine man who correctly identified the sickness and gave me the right shrub and roots to chew. Not all traditional medicine men are bad. In my opinion, the South African government should try to register the traditional healers, it may be beneficial in the long run.
Tom a Sudanese in Australia ,



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