Answering the call… the drumbeat

by | Print Articles, Spiritual Living, Winter 2024

Meet Godfrey Madlalate who shares his journey and his experience of how the role of Traditional Health Practitioner has become a sought-after natural health option for all South Africans.

The ancestral calling is unique and not limited to black Africans only. South Africa boasts a few white, coloured and Indian traditional healers, who were trained and mentored amongst familiar lines. We have to preserve the beauty and integrity of our diverse community. I personally had to sacrifice an entire professional career in the building environment in order to take up work as a traditional health practitioner on a full-time basis. This is my 24th year in the field and I have gathered a lot of wisdom in the process.
My appeal to the younger and recently initiated traditional healers is that their conduct should remain dignified and full of integrity at all times

African traditional health practitioners worked tirelessly with the national Department of Health between 2003 and 2010 to recognise and formalise our healing work officially. The pinnacle of this process was that former President Thabo Mbeki assented to the Traditional Health Practitioners Act No.22 of 2007 in a landmark parliamentary ruling. The act allows government to regulate the work of all traditional health practitioners in South Africa and to deal with misconduct by healers. A special Directorate of Traditional Medicine was established within the Department of Health and at least 10 per cent of the national health budget was reallocated to this directorate. An Interim Council for Traditional Medicine is also in place since circa 2008. We argued that we, as healers, could not be regulated by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) due to the complex nature of our work and inadequate documentation of our work, let alone our modes of training and practice approaches.

The Traditional Health Practitioners Act No.22 of 2007 classifies traditional healing work into four categories:

  • Herbalists;
  • Diviners;
  • Traditional Birth Attendants (midwives);
  • Traditional Surgeons (circumcision ritual specialists).

This classification does not recognise the entire spectrum of healing in South Africa but provides a comprehensive perspective of the situation on the ground. The recognition of traditional healers in South Africa has not been an easy journey and remains incomplete at this stage. We do hope that the finalisation of the Council on Traditional Medicine will provide for the standardisation of training approaches, medical aid claims and professional recognition for healers. It remains a bridge too far.

Outside of the scope of government, healers have made inroads into the establishment of formal tertiary qualifications for traditional healers. A case in point is the Mhlabuhlangene School of African Medicine in Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal. They offer diplomas, bachelor’s, honours, master’s and PhD programmes in African traditional medicine as well as theology and are fully accredited by the relevant higher education authorities up to National Qualifications Framework Level 10. Amongst the highest qualifications they offer is a PhD in healing science. The entire mindset that healers are barbaric, unhygienic, dirty, uneducated, misguided and dangerous to society has to change rapidly. We have worked tirelessly to change the face of healing in this country. What is actually amazing is that the calling to become a traditional healer (herbalist, diviner or prophet) has nothing to do with one’s educational background. We have academics, politicians, bureaucrats, sports personalities and ordinary working-class citizens who have been called to heal by their ancestors. I should also caution those who think that healers worship their ancestors. On the contrary, we venerate our ancestors and worship God. This is part of our unfortunate history in that, when the Christian missionaries and explorers first landed in Africa, they changed our ways of living and belief systems. Traditional and indigenous belief systems were demonised as being barbaric and ungodly. It is my ongoing wish that young South Africans will in future register for higher education studies in healing as well as indigenous knowledge systems.

My perspective on the role of traditional health practitioners in South Africa
The African traditional healer of the precolonial era was a leader in society. These healers were very pivotal in regional and national decision making, seated next to our kings and queens. They were responsible for a lot of societal deliverables that included, among others, the following:

  • Rain making for the local regions;
  • Assisting the kings, queens and other traditional leaders with advice and decision making, in the context of ensuring the wellbeing and protection of the nation;
  • Precolonial primary and tertiary health care systems, including surgery and midwifery;
  • Strategy and scenario planning for the nation through prophecies, divination and predictions;
  • Domestic animal welfare and care;
  • Overseeing cultural rituals and ceremonies;
  • Counselling the general population;
  • The regular sourcing of herbs and shrubs for processing and the ultimate treatment of humanity.

Beyond precolonial Africa a lot has changed, due to the advent of ‘modern civilisation’, colonisation, repression, political systems and the resettlement of our people, education and technology. The modern-day traditional healer works in a highly restrictive and regulated environment that stifles the creativity and versatility of our approaches and methods. It remains our task to ensure that traditional healers operate in optimal environments despite facing numerous challenges. When we introspect our roles in present-day South Africa, we realise that our central role remains to foster social cohesion and nation building, this to be followed by the building and rebuilding of nuclear families. We are, alongside traditional leaders, custodians of our culture and heritage. Our core daily duty remains to divine and treat our patients. We also have a mammoth task of balancing the earth’s energy points through several spiritually inspired rituals and ceremonies that include rain making. We are an integral part of the practitioners that have to ensure that we live in harmony with nature and its ecosystems. The complexity of colonisation compels us to educate the youth on African indigenous knowledge systems. We have to strive to empower the African children and adults to thrive in the diverse and interfaith community that we have become.

Godfrey Madlalate, Dip (Herbalism) has been working as a traditional health practitioner since 2001 and is based in Soweto, Johannesburg. In 2000 he spent a year receiving training as a healer. He specialises in bones divination, physical treatment and energy balancing of individuals using African traditional medicine modalities. His other passion remains patient counselling and life path alignment. He is the owner and MD of Madlalate Management & Development Consulting. He’s a part-time management consultant and previously worked in the private sector in a management capacity since 1993. He is highly experienced in the fields of project management, urbanisation development, enterprise development, corporate strategy and scenario planning.