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Traditional Health Practitioners

African traditional medicine has at its base a deep belief in the interactions between the spiritual and physical well-being, and so traditionally healers use a holistic approach in dealing with health and illness.1 This holistic approach embodies the synergy of the distinction between a ‘Nyanga’ and a ‘Sangoma’ (to use the Zulu-derived words; they are probably more familiar to Western ears) and which is perhaps not appreciated or understood of traditional African cultures. A Nyanga uses traditional herbal medicines to heal, whilst the Sangoma, a diviner, operates within the traditional religious supernatural context.2

Ironically, Western medicine – itself traditionally based on science, technology and clinical analysis – is coming around to an acceptance of the important interaction between these two spheres of existence. After all, the word ‘disease’ has its root meaning in just that: dis-ease.3 It serves to mention that, on the sub-Saharan continent, the ratio of traditional health practitioners to the general population is 1:500; ‘Western’ doctors, by comparison, have a 1:40 000 ratio.4

The Traditional Health Practitioners Act 20075 is designed to regulate the registration, training and practices of traditional health practitioners, and serve and protect the interests of members of the public who utilise their services. The Interim Traditional Health Practitioners Council of South Africa, is intended effectively, to administer the Act, which falls under the ultimate authority of the Minister of Health.

A. Registration

  1. No one may practise as a traditional health practitioner unless he is registered in that category with the Council.6 It is an offence to contravene this directive.

  2. Any person whose registration has been cancelled must return his registration certificate to the Registrar (within 30 days of being directed to do so). If you fail to comply with this provision, you commit a criminal offence.7

B. Disciplinary hearings

The Council can appoint a disciplinary tribunal to hear and determine charges of improper conduct against any registered person. The tribunal has a wide variety of powers relative to such a hearing.

  1. It is an offence for a witness who has been subpoenaed to:
    • fail to attend the hearing at the time and place specified in the subpoena;8
    • refuse to be sworn in (or to be affirmed) as a witness;9
    • fail to answer, fully and satisfactorily, all questions lawfully put to him;
    • fail to produce any book, document or object in his possession, custody or under his control which he has been required to produce.10
  2. A witness who has been subpoenaed must remain in attendance until excused by the chairperson of the disciplinary tribunal, and commits an offence by not doing so.

  3. A witness may not knowingly give a false statement on any matter, and commits an offence if he does.11

  4. It is a crime to prevent another person from complying with a subpoena, or from giving evidence, or from producing a book, document or object which he is required to produce.
  1. Ilse Truter ‘African Traditional Healers’, published in the SA Pharmaceutical Journal (September 2007) at page 56. 

  2. Ibid. 

  3. The etymology is Old French – ‘desaise’ which means a ‘lack of ease’. 

  4. www.traditionalhealth.org.za – ‘Traditional Healing and Law’. 

  5. As amended; the latest amendment effected by Act 22 of 2007. 

  6. Section 49(1)(a). 

  7. The same applies to a voluntary association whose recognition by the Council has lapsed. 

  8. Section 34(7)(a). 

  9. Section 34(7)(b). 

  10. Section 34(7)(c). 

  11. Section 38.