Despite the fact that an estimated 80 percent of South Africans consult African Traditional Healers, there is currently no regulating system for African Traditional Medicine (ATM). This has resulted in ATM practitioners feeling that they have been discriminated against and ignored by the South African Department of Health (DoH).
In an effort to be acknowledged by government, make their voices heard and restore dignity to the profession, the Traditional Healers’ Organization (THO) has aligned itself with the CAMS industry by joining forces with the Natural Health Alliance to form the Traditional & Natural Health Alliance (TNHA). “The Traditional Healers, headed by Phephsile Maseko, are a powerful ally to have, as they feel very strongly that they should not be discriminated against,” says Norman Fels. “Both the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee and the DoH are now very aware that the CAMS industry has this strategically important organization on board, and that a significant percentage of sangomas wish to commercially market their products and feel that they, too, should be appropriately regulated.”
The powerful presence of the THO in the melting-pot of CAMS regulations has clearly prompted the DoH to sit up and take notice. On 30 March 2015 the DoH Director- General, Malebona Matsoso, and senior staff convened a meeting with more than 20 THO senior leaders. THO National Coordinator, Phephsile Maseko, who was at the helm, described this as a “no holds barred” meeting.
The THO was established in 1970, has approximately 69 000 members throughout the country, and registers four categories of Traditional Health Practitioners (THP). At the meeting, Maseko outlined the challenges faced by ATM practitioners and proposed possible solutions, a significant one of which was to arrange a meeting of all key players in the health industry – incorporating Western, Complementary and Traditional medicines – to discuss collaboration issues.
“The Director-General has now committed the DoH to quarterly meetings with THP organizations to discuss their issues and broader industry matters,” says Maseko. “She has also asked the THO to help the department draw up a programme that they can jointly implement, and to ensure that other THP organizations are incorporated into this programme so that the department is not seen as discriminatory.”