Triumph for traditional healers

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In a watershed ruling the Supreme Court of Appeal has ruled that a sick note from a traditional healer be seen in the same light as one issued by a qualified medical doctor, and that a chef fired for taking leave to complete her training as a traditional healer be reinstated.

Johanna Mmoledi, 46, was fired from Kievits Kroon estate in Pretoria in 2007 after taking a month’s leave to finish her training as a traditional healer. The training included traditional healing therapy for psychological problems Mmoledi was experiencing at the time.

According to a November 2013 Rapport article by Annetjie de Wet, herself a qualified sangoma, Mmoledi originally started to experience dizziness, headaches, visions and dreams – a state known as "ukubiswa" and what’s regarded as a sign of her calling to become a traditional healer.

She embarked on a traditional healer training course and for a while her employers allowed her to work half days, leaving her free to attend courses in the afternoons.

Unpaid leave

In May 2007 she requested a month’s unpaid leave to complete her training as a healer, which included attending gruelling ritualistic ceremonies and regarded as vitally important to complete the process of becoming a traditional healer.

Her employer refused to give her the time off, despite Mmoledi presenting them with a doctor’s note from Ms Agnes Masilo Banda in the name of the North West Kingaka Association and which stated: This serves to certify that Johannah Mmoledi was seen by me on 13-01-07 and was diagnosed to have a "PERMINISIONS OF ANCESTERS...”

In effect, considering Mmoledi’s mental state and the psychological rigours demanded to become a traditional healer, this note is not dissimilar to anybody else presenting their employer with a western doctor’s note stating that he/she booked them off for psychological reasons.

'Hang up her apron'

Kievits Kroon HR disregarded the note and on 1 June 2007, after completing her shift, Mmoledi had no other choice but to hang up her apron, leave Kievits Kroon and go on to complete her training.

Kievits Kroon subsequently fired her from her job and since 2008 the multi-million Rand Dutch businessman-owned estate has refused three court orders – CCMA, Labour and Labour Appeal – to reinstate Mmoledi in her job by simply escalating the case to higher courts.

Mmoledi’s argument, which was accepted by all these courts, was that her mental state was danger of decline should she interrupt her initiation process at such a critical time. 

Now, following a unanimous judgment, Judge Azhar Cachalia of the Supreme Court of Appeal has ordered Kievits Kroon to reinstate Johanna Mmoledi.

Traditional vs. western

It is seen not only as a personal triumph for Johanna, but also as an important milestone for Medical Research Council’s Indigenous Knowledge System (IKS) which aims to promote, develop and protect the IKS and its innovative systems of health through education, research and policies that would be beneficial to all and are in line with the mission and vision of the MRC.

It also has important implications for the rights of those South Africans who prefer to consult a traditional healer rather than western doctor.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) also encourages the integration of traditional medicine  into the health system – especially in developing countries where traditional health practitioners are more accessible in rural areas than allopathic (conventional/western) practitioners, and traditional medicine is sometimes the only affordable source of health care.

Read more about the status of and issues traditional healers face in South Africa.

Picture: Sangoma from Shutterstock

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