While many African traditions have changed over time, sangomas still play a very active role in the lives of large numbers of people. As we speak, sangomas are praying for the safe return of illegal miners who are trapped underground in an unused mine in Langlaagte, south of Johannesburg – to give you an idea of just how popular sangomas are, it’s estimated that there are close to 200 000 traditional healers in South Africa, versus 40 000 Western medical practitioners, and government has decided that it’s time to regulate this ‘profession’. In terms of the Medicines & Related Substances Amendment Bill persons wanting to practice as sangomas will have to apply to the Interim Traditional Healers’ Council for permission. They will also be required to undergo a minimum period of 12 months of training with an accredited institution or tutor, will need to be over the age of 18, and once qualified will have to keep a record of their consultations.
On the whole sangomas seem to be opposed to the regulations, with some even referring to it as ‘apartheid medicine’. They say that you can’t specify a minimum age, as it’s up to the ancestors to decide when to call upon someone, as is the length of time that an initiate spends training. Further issues include client confidentiality (sangomas are reticent to record their consultations), as well as the fact that the bill was only published in English, disadvantaging those non-English speakers who may have wanted to respond.
It’s a difficult debate and one that’s still ongoing. While the bill was passed in October last year it has yet to become an Act – so watch this space!