Front Page Slideshow

Traditional Healers In Transition: Grooming our own Timber: NRF & DST funded from 2011 to 2013.


Introduction, motivation and literature review

The project uses a trans-disciplinary approach by investigating the best practices used by Traditional Health Practitioners (THPs) in sustaining the livelivehoods of the community members of Tsengiwe. Subsequently, a social - psychological approach is used in addressing the release of information from the traditional Healers (THPs) to the academics for scientific evaluation and returning the laboratory findings to the THPs. A bridge between the two groups is solicited as THPs are full partners, not just subjects or participants. Collaboration linkages have been forged. The project is critical as it encourages the full participation of the custodians of IK and is anticipated that it will sustain the expected initiated long - term partnership not just with THPs but also other health care therapists who are keen to join hands in the proposed study's initiatives, and the community at large. It is needed at this time with all challenges that the African countries still battle with high numbers of HIV/AIDS affected and infected people, with Aids being perceived as number one killer disease. The collaboration efforts made (UFH; WITS; RHODES) are crucial since they seek to address the limitations and recommendations proposed from the results of the evaluation research studies including those of the 8 countries (including SA) that were conducted (AMREF, 2004 &2006; UNAIDS, 2002 & 2009) and recommendations from various studies (Mlisa, 2009; Van Rensburg, 2004; Bernard, 2010; Wreford) and those of the Portfolio Committee of DST(2007) that until good relationships, respect and high acknowledgement of IK holders is achieved little will be achieved in building trust needed between them, government and scientists. . Hence, the study has an element that looks at all necessary legal and ethical issues relating to IPR, patenting etc.


Research Questions

What indigenous knowledge resources and types of knowledge do THPs in Tsengiwe village base their general life practices on (e.g. living practices such as food, health, water, land and energy)? What methods and technologies do they use to utilize those resources to preserve life and promote economy growth?


Aims and Objectives


The main focus is on establishing a rural one stop multi-disciplinary Health Care and Research Centre that will allow the smooth operational logistics between the orthodox healers and biomedical healers towards the main goal of client care and complementing each other. The other objectives are: to capacitate THPs with life skills that will enable them to identify and use resources to promote food security strategies. To empower them with marketing skills to enhance and advance their economy growth skills. To create IKS data base based on diverse IK systems and Modern systems used by this village. To identify means used by the village to integrate both systems. To identify cultural patterns used in treatment of illnesses or diseases by the THPs and villagers.

  • A concise summary of the methodology

The research methodology of choice is integrative methods such as Participative Action Research (PAR) (Babie & Mouton, 2001) to encourage joint participation and ownership; Complex Adaptive Systems Model (CASM) (Dooley, 1997) which includes: systems theory; population ecology and communication theory to address a: complex nature of inclusiveness of various issues to be tackled by this study (complexity of the environment situation and dynamics) and grounded approach (Charmaz, 2004; Glaser & Strauss, 1976) used offer integrative data collection techniques (face to face interviews, focus groups etc. Support theories such as social realism (Archer, 1995, 1998, 2000 & 2007) and critical realism (Bhaskar, 1972; 1978 &79) is used as supporter of CASM theory to define structures, steering, mechanisms by which knowledge is produced and structured , defined and analyzed; define culture and roles of different agencies involved in IK production and construction and the role of power, and to critically review the nature of bio-spiritual nature. Further, the narrative approach is being encouraged since amaXhosa culture is oral. Narratives allow participants to use narratives to depict experiences, beliefs and bio-spiritual experiences. Further, critical Marxist approach is considered to critical review the political socio-economic issues affecting gender, poverty and redress and approaches addressing issues of inequality and health and illness in the world's culture (Encyclopaedia of Medical anthropology, 2004; Baer, 1997). The integrative methodology allows various approaches or angles to the research questions.

  • Description of subject population including characteristics, age range and number of subjects

The subject population of THP association was selected due to interest shown and interest to participate. All THPs and other interested community members of Tsengiwe village were viewed as critical participants. Later on interested THPs and members from neighbouring villages were selected to take part as well. No age, educational, religious or any other restrictions were imposed. Participation was made based on individual decision and interest to participate. All individuals are aware that they can stop participation at any stage they feel so.

  • Anticipated risks as well as the precautions taken to minimize risk

None anticipated

  • Anticipated benefits

Skills development; Economy growth; IPR and patenting of certain products. Wide IK data base and Trust and long relationships between the orthodox healers, biomedicals, institutions of Higher Learning and government structures; poverty alleviation and food security best practices.

  • Ethical Considerations

All partners and participants have been involved in Ethical clearance application through various discussions at meetings, workshops and MoU preparations. Interested THPs and community members formed an association as means of making management and control of this project to be smooth since all identified a need for all to be committed, responsible and accountable of their own actions as well as protecting the community members as a whole and their IPR, hence the preparation of MoU between the PI and the association. No individual THP has to make rules all are abiding by the MoU and the association's Constitution. The association is being registered as an NPO to legalize and officialize it. However, both the constitution and MoU signed it does stipulate that each individual will not be obliged to remain in the association or project if wants to relieve him or herself. All individuals participating do so on their own accord and can leave the project or association at any time. The association will be responsible to monitor and evaluate the relationships of the collaborations at all times. The MoU stipulates that the association members are aware that as the project progresses there could be necessary changes, however, such changes will call for a round table debate and no partner will enforce any new change (s) without consensus among all partners and collaborators.

  • Intellectual Propert Rights Considerations (IP)

Protection on IPR is included in the MoU and it is the results of this clause that led to the formulation of the MoU between the THPs and PI. All laws regulating the IPR will be considered, debated and will be respected by all. As means of IPR, THPs also mandated coding of plants in particular as there seems to be some distrust in this area and names of plants will be revealed at time of laboratory results or production stage or patenting, hence a rural mini-laboratory and representation of THPs by two co-investigators not PI to allow their full participation in all logistics or processes.


Update on the project's results

In 2011 6 students were awarded bursaries (3 Honours; 2 x4th year Bsc student and 1 undergraduate). 5 students completed their research successfully and graduated. One research report is still to be analyzed and finalized. Areas of research covered:

  1. A pilot study of health/illness patterns and therapy options in Tsengiwe Village, Cala
  2. Identification of indigenous knowledge system on pasture management and restoring of degraded native pastures
  3. How women use, manage and access water resources in their daily lives in Tsengiwe Village
  4. Consumers' perception on meat from animals slaughtered for traditional purposes in Sakhisizwe and Ngqushwa municipalities
  5. Indigenous Knowledge Systems in Relation to Animal use in the Lifespan of Traditional Health practitioners
  6. Perceptions of communication between traditional healers and clients during a consultation session when engaging ancestors


On 13th February 2013 the project was monitored and evaluated by NRF and DST. Evaluation had positive results and the project continues in 2012 with additional bursaries ( 2x MA; 1 Honours; 1 PhD candidate). It is a pity that other bursaries were not awarded as the project requested 4 x MA; 3x Honours; 3x PhD and I x PhD bursary. It is anticipated that all students will come from SA.