Traditional Healers Project
Why was the project undertaken?
Almost 80% of black patients in South Africa consult a traditional healer before going
to a professional nurse or medical doctor. Since 1988 there has been a steady
increase in the number of vagrants, informal traders,
herbalists/traditional/practitioners and diviners (abathandazi and sangomas).
In 1955, it was only 1.4% of herbalists that were operating in Durban. This figure
increased in 1990 to 11.0%. Since 1995 the increase of herbalists operating in
Durban have been 9.6%. In 1996 a survey carried out by the Institute of Natural
Resources revealed that between 700 000 and 900 000 people a year make use of
Herbal market and at least more than R170 million in 1998 was spent on raw and
prescribed products in Russell street Herbal Bridge Market.
Deregulation, the lifting of influx control laws, socio-economic/political problems and
unemployment has contributed to the above increase. This increase in the number of
Herbalists and Traditional Healers/Practitioners resulted in many complaints being
received by this department regarding the poor health standards. Since 1994 several
meetings involving the Traditional Practitioners Leaders and Conservation officials
were convened by the Department of Health to formulate a strategy for upgrading
health standards among the traditional practitioners operating in Brook, Russell and
What is the project about?
The traditional healers project is about facilitating the interaction of conservation
bodies and Herbalists Organisations that would ensure a sustainable programme
based on mutual relationship that will benefit the Health Department and
development of the community and the environment. The Department wanted to
ensure that the highest standard of hygiene was maintained.
It also wanted to act as facilitator between professional medical disciplines,
conservation groups, sangomas, nyangas and Herbalists, to encourage controlled
development and self improvement of existing trading conditions and to assist in the
investigation of misuse and malpractice of herbal remedies. It was also discovered
that herbalists were selling that chemicals like liquid mercury that can be dangerous
to human beings.
What processes were undertaken
In 1992 City Health department became engaged in the collaborations with
Traditional Healers. The objective was to help this sector to form a unified
body, as they were fragmented and very difficult to manage.
In 1995 a study was carried out under the topic, “Factors contributing to an
increase of Herbalists in Durban and the perception of Traditional Healers
In 1996 a body known as an umbrella body for Traditional Healers was
formed which acted as a mouthpiece for Traditional healers. In partnership
with HOD provincial steering committee for KZN Traditional Healers was
formed. This ended up being the Council for KZN Traditional Healers, which
divided into 11 Regions of which eThekwini Region is part.
In 2004 an Act was passed by Parliament of the Republic of South Africa
known as Traditional Health Practitioners Act, 2004 (Act No.35 of 2004)
What positives have resulted from this project?
An umbrella body of Traditional Healers was formed.
Dr A Robinson and V.T. Mkhize of the City Health Department were invited by
the Deputy Director General of the Department of Health, KwaZulu-Natal to a
meeting in Pietermaritzburg on 13 September 1996 to discuss a strategy of
co-ordinating the Traditional Healers and to act as a resource in giving
guidance to the networking of Traditional Healers.
Technikons and Universities are now using City Health’s archives for the
purpose of studies in indigenous knowledge systems, e.g. Traditional
The Department has been actively involved in co-ordinating the training of
Traditional Practitioners/Herbalists on how to propagate their own muti-
nurseries through the Silverglen Nature Reserve Nursery staff.
The positive attitude shown by the City Health department towards the
Traditional Practitioners have resulted in many traditional healers coming for
training in primary health care and also as AIDS Counsellors. More and more
traditional healers now refer their patients to medical doctors.
The creation of Herbal Market has given Traditional Healers a place where
they can sell their herbs without being chased away or forced to leave
because they do not have permits.
There is a struggle of power within the leadership of the Traditional
Practitioners, which stemmed from their previous history. This struggle makes
managing and co-ordinating of the structure to be very difficult.
There are so many problems in allocation of rooms in herbal market. Those in
power manipulate the process through giving their friends and relatives rooms
first. There is an ever-growing outcry from those who have been waiting to get
rooms for more than 10 years.
Hundreds of Traditional Healers in Herbal Market do not have rooms. Their
medicines are exposed to the ever-changing weather. As a result their
medicines lose the essence that makes it be able to heal.
There is also a misunderstanding between Municipal officials who are working
with Traditional Healers and the leadership of Traditional Healers. The
leaders of Traditional healers complain that the officials do not consult them
when they take decisions that affect Traditional Healers.
What were the most important lesson learned?
The Municipality can play a very crucial role in encouraging Western and Traditional
Practitioners to work together as Traditional Practitioners they still play an important
role in healing.
Mr. V.T.B. Mkhize
Environmental Health Offficer
City Health Department
9 Old Fort Road, Durban
Tel: 031-311 3540