#02 2020

Traditional healers in a time of COVID-19

By Tony Swemmer, Manager, SAEON Ndlovu Node

Traditional healers are particularly vulnerable to the spread of the novel coronavirus in rural areas, where many people are likely to consult a traditional healer before going to a hospital or clinic when getting ill.

Furthermore, most traditional healers are over the age of 60 years and at high risk should they contract COVID-19.

Unfortunately, a substantial body of traditional knowledge will be lost if large numbers of traditional healers were to succumb to the current pandemic.

Within the context of their ongoing engagements with traditional healers from neighbouring communities, South African National Parks (SANParks) is investigating ways to keep traditional healers informed of COVID-19 developments and appropriate precautions.

As part of the SAEON Ndlovu Node’s environmental science engagement programme, Mightyman Mashele, a staff member who lives in Welverdiend village in Mpumalanga province, was able to assist with this project in the run-up to the National State of Disaster declared by President Cyril Ramaphosa. Well-versed in the culture of the village, Mightyman helped to locate traditional healers and to translate relevant information for them in the local language (Xitsonga).

SAEON field assistant Mightyman Mashele (right) translating information provided by Louise Swemmer (SANParks, centre) to Olinda Ngomana, a traditional healer of Welverdiend village in Mpumalanga in the run-up to the National State of Disaster (Photo: Tony Swemmer)