When she was 28, Isabell Gama from Emanyeveni in Mpumalanga thought that the tingling in her feet was due to idlozi – her ancestors were calling her to become a sangoma but she had not answered the call.
“I had problems with my feet and walking was unbearable because it was so painful. I didn’t understand what was wrong,” Gama told OurHealth.
There is a history of sangomas in Gama’s family so her aunts suggested she consult a sangoma. “The sangoma, without throwing her bones, immediately saw my discomfort when I walked – my swollen hands and blackish feet. She said I had idlozi and should become a sangoma before I lose both my feet."
The sangoma offered to train Gama and gave reasonable terms of payment. In January 2018, Gama became her student and she hoped the training would be the end of her health woes. But Gama continued to suffer and described the training as traumatic.
“The sangoma’s expectations were always high, irrespective of having a problem with my feet and hands; I was forced to perform (dance) like everyone else. After two months without seeing any difference, my family took me back home. We went to Manyeveni clinic and a nurse advised me to test for chronic illnesses, including HIV. The HIV test was positive and I was also diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy.
”Peripheral neuropathy is a result of damage to a person’s peripheral nerves, and often causes weakness, numbness and pain, usually in their hands and feet.
According to nurse Busisiwe Ramothwala, with early diagnosis and treatment peripheral neuropathy can be cured. The nurse said many people in rural areas are misinformed about illnesses like peripheral neuropathy.
“Because of their cultural beliefs, if they get sick they consult sangomas instead of seeking professional medical help. They hope that the traditional medicines will work,” she said.
Ramothwala said a delay in getting the correct diagnosis and treatment could result in serious complications and permanent problems for some patients.
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