If you fall ill during a visit to South Africa, you have two choices available to you for medical treatment: Western doctors and hospitals or traditional Sangomas.
Sangomas are an intrinsic part of the Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi and Ndebele culture. They are highly respected in said cultures, often helping people rid themselves of bad spirits often brought about by witchcraft.
The healing process is a ritual one. Sangomas wear traditional cloths, often to please individual ancestors and make use of Muti, a herbal medicine with spiritual important.
The vast majority of South Africans prefer visiting the Sangoma for advice and treatment over the more modern western medicine. Patients at a Sangomas hut (Ndumba) spoke to me about western doctors not understanding the issues faced by black people, whereas the Sangoma knows exactly what the issue is.
Change is taking place within the Sangoma community. Traditional healers make use of Muti to cure a variety of ailments, often the Muti is housed in a variety of different containers.
In Durban City Centre, a modern approach to being a Sangoma is taking place, where the Sangoma has packaged up the more common Muti and made it appealing to the younger market, who don’t necessarily want to take time to mix up the herbs, but would rather be able to drink it in a ready made mixture.
Instead of a traditional hut, a fancy modern office with advertisement’s and comfy seating is available.
The government has taken steps to bridge the gap between traditional healing and modern medicine by registering the Sangomas and giving them the legal ability to write doctors notes and also receive basic HIV/AIDs training.
Furthermore, traditional Sangomas will refer a patient to a western counterpart if the condition is serious, but in most cases the patient will not heed the advice and often suffer as a result.
This project started off as an editorial commission, but will evolve into a more detailed look at the Sangoma in Southern Africa.