We live in a rather strange society in South Africa.
We claim to have one of the best constitutions of any country in the world and we get together each year on Heritage Day to celebrate our togetherness, yet we turn a blind eye to matters like obtaining building permission in “informal settlements”, and “tribal land” and the legal status of tribal kings and chiefs, and the professional status of traditional healers. (And transporting workers on the backs of open bakkies.)
I have a friend whose wife is now in the final year of her training to become a sangoma, or traditional healer. When she graduates, will she be recognised as a medical practitioner and be entitled to write prescriptions for pharmacists to fill? Will her patients be able to claim from their medical aid societies to pay her bills? If not, why not?
For a long time, the formal health system refused to acknowledge chiropractors as legitimate medical practitioners. They are now accepted.
The medical world refused to accept cannabis as a legal medication until very recently. It’s now being increasingly widely recognised as a powerful and effective medication.
Who has the right to decide which style of health care is “legitimate”? What about acupuncture?
Chinese medicine? Ear candling? Feng shui?
If enough patients approach the minister of health and say they rely on their sangomas to keep them healthy, will the law be changed?
If my sangoma recommends that I offer a white goat to my ancestors, can I claim the price of a goat from my medical aid society, and must it be a particular breed of goat, or can I substitute a generic goat?
My local community newspaper regularly carries advertisements for the services of “healers”.
The latest edition lists no fewer than eight, all of whom claim to help clients with problematic love affairs and to improve chances in gambling.
In addition, Professor Amos offers genital enlargement and Mama Asha can sell you a magic wallet for just R350. Saidi has a magic ring and holy oil for sale.
On closer inspection, none of these healers actually offers to treat medical conditions. Maybe that goes without saying. “Well, obviously I can deal with lower back pain, itchy armpits or ingrown toenails. I’m a healer.
“That’s the obvious stuff. But it’s the lack of gambling luck and the loss of lovers that people want to cure. Ordinary doctors can’t do that.”
We may have a wonderful set of laws in South Africa, but are they keeping up with reality?
In this age of transformation, shouldn’t we appoint a few sangomas to serve on the South African Medical Research Council?
An old man went to see his doctor and complained that he had a constant pain in his left knee.
The doctor examined him and said: “I can’t find anything that’s obviously wrong. It’s probably just old age.”
“No, doctor, that can’t be right,” said the patient. “My left knee is exactly the same age and it doesn’t hurt at all.”
* "Tavern of the Seas" is a daily column written in the Cape Argus by David Biggs. Biggs can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.