This story is part one of a series in which RelZim.org is exploring the evolving state of traditional religion in Zimbabwe.
The Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association (ZINATHA) plans to set up traditional hospitals and clinics in various centres in the country to offer alternative health services and healing sessions to patients.
ZINATHA executive member in charge of Finance and projects, Dr. Kennedy Mbewe Kachuruka told RelZim.org that traditional healers are now modernizing in order to keep up with technology and the changing times. He said due to high fees at conventional health institutions, many poor Zimbabweans are turning to traditional healers who are sometimes the first and last line of defence against diseases that affect them on a daily basis.
Patients undergoing treatment will be admitted in the traditional hospitals for closer observation and monitoring. “We want the traditional hospitals to offer services similar to those offered by conventional hospitals. Traditional medicine is often mistakenly associated with witchcraft, yet it is augmenting Western medicine which is generally accepted by most people in the country,” Dr. Mbewe said. He also added that indigenous-based medicine is becoming popular and now being processed into capsules which are being sold in pharmacies and other health outlets.
“Traditional healers are no longer giving patients medicinal roots, as these are being crushed into powder form and packaged into capsules all in an effort to give a proper dosage to our patients,” he said. Dr. Mbewe further explained that many traditional healers like him are now keeping proper medical records for patients who come for consultation. Just like Western medical doctors, traditional doctors give their patients review dates and make referrals to experts who specialize on specific ailments.
Dr. Mbewe called on the government, the traditional medical practitioners council and non-governmental organisations to work with ZINATHA in order to do further research on indigenous medicine, which has proved to be effective in treating chronic diarrhea and a number of sexually-transmitted diseases. He added that traditional medicine reduces many ailments associated with HIV including cancer. Speaking of which, Dr. Mbewe accused some Western researchers of stealing locally-developed traditional medicine such as gundamiti, which has found its way in pharmacies and laboratories in the United States.
Gundamiti was developed several years ago and was said to be effective in reducing the effects of HIV on people living with the condition.
Dr. Mbewe also took a swipe at self-proclaimed witch hunters, commonly known as tsikamutanda, who defraud villagers of their livestock and money after conducting witch-hunting ceremonies. He said tsikamutandas are not members of ZINATHA and some of them are simply bogus healers – “If they are genuine traditional healers, then they should register with ZINATHA and get an operating license in accordance with the law. They should not terrorize villagers and force people to part with
their cattle. If they take people’s livestock, what will they use for draught power,” asked Dr. Mbewe rhetorically.
The ZINATHA executive member also underlined that traditional and Western religions should not criticize and belittle each other, as they are similar, as both pray to one God. “Christianity came with the whites but long before Africans were praying to God through their ancestors and forefathers. This therefore means the two have many similarities although they are practiced differently,” he elaborated.
ZINATHA represents most of the traditional healers (herbalists, spirit mediums, faith healers, and traditional midwives) practicing in Zimbabwe. The government established a Traditional Medical Practitioners Council to regulate and develop guidelines for the practice. ZINATHA has a register of practitioners who treat HIV/AIDS.
A few years ago the group reached an agreement with physicians to refer people living with HIV/AIDS to traditional healers to help dispel myths associated with traditional medicines.
Dr. Mbewe himself was born in a family of traditional healers. He is in his late 30’s and started practicing traditional healing in 1989 at a young age.
Traditional healers receive special teachings. Healing traditions do not follow written-guidelines traditions and are passed from one generation to the other through visions, stories, and dreams.
Dr. Mbewe says he treats many health problems and provides therapy on problems associated with sexual, social, psychiatric, psychological, traumatic, spiritual, business, personal and marriage. Some of the diseases and problems Dr. Mbewe treats and deals with include sexual inability, nightmares, fibroids, manhood
strengthening, bad luck, lost love recovery, job promotion luck, headaches and removing evil spirits. He charges a consultation fee of 3 USD, while his herbs cost between 3 USD and 10 USD per pack.