We spoke to a traditional healer about Covid-19

Traditional Medicine Marketplace in Johannesburg CBD. Picture: iStock
Traditional Medicine Marketplace in Johannesburg CBD. Picture: iStock

“We must pray, and perhaps this is a wake-up call. We are busy and we ignore our cultural duties and focus on money and the belief in God, but our ancestors we have no time for.”

So says Nombulelo Doreen Ndiko from Carltonville, a 73-year-old traditional healer, about the current the Covid-19 coronavirus epidemic.

Ndiko has been practising for 34 years and shares her insights in a week where the nation lost a prolific sangoma and author in Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa, who died this past Wednesday aged 98.

She says she has yet to hear one of her fellow healers mention what this outbreak could mean, what the bones say, as it were.

We are doing what the government has asked all of us to do. We must also tell our patients to do the same.
Nombulelo Doreen Ndiko

She recalls being at a clinic to visit a doctor when she heard some nurses making a fuss and running about the hospital as if they had received some disturbing news.

“One of them called to me and walked over to where I was seated and waiting. She asked if I knew what was going on and if I had any advice. This was early on in these times, but I now realise that was the closest thing to a sign I had seen as they were definitely asking about this coronavirus.”

She stressed boosting the immune system and using certain natural medicines such as African potato, garlic, fruits and vegetables and of course staying at home.  

Ndiko said we have a lot to learn about this disease and she hopes to be able to contribute.

She echoed the views of the Traditional Health Practitioner’s Sector (THP) who released a statement in response to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s lock down announcement, expressing concerns around traditional healers not getting a seat at the table in discussing ways to combat this disease.

The National Sector Leader Solly Nduku said: “It is regrettable that our sector has not been engaged and even given clarity on protocols affecting their practice and rights of patients in accessing our services that include but not are not limited to operating of our herbal shops and pharmacies.”

Nevertheless, they have vowed to stick to government protocols:

“We advise traditional leaders to postpone rituals, ceremonies, rites of passage and spiritual and traditional gatherings such as umemulo, umhlonyane, imbeleko, ukubuyisa ithongo, ukumisa amalada and imilindelo. This is also for the safety of yourselves, your initiates and your communities.”

“We are doing what the government has asked all of us to do. We must also tell our patients to do the same,” Ndiko said.

Nduko offered a few homeopathic and traditional remedies she says could help fight Covid-19.

 “Impepho [incense] is extremely good in fumigating, smudging, ukugeza [bathing], ukufutha [a nasal and chest sauna of sorts], ukuchela [traditional irrigation] and as imbiza yesifuba [herbal chest remedies].

The medical plants that can be used include, but are not limited to, umhlonyane, ibiza, ikhathazo, isibharha, isiphephetho, gum tree/indlulamthi, inzinziniba, ukalimuzi and other medical plants for treating and management of the respiratory system.”

Sanitary toolkits have been issued to traditional healers along with educational material about Covid-19. The THP say they also aim to have a systematic approach to referrals between themselves and health facilities.


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