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Should African countries legally recognize traditional healers as legitimate medical practitioners?

The eSwatini High Court is hearing a test case that could set precedent for whether employers should accept sick notes and medical reports from traditional healers.



Ncobile Precious Maziya, a female correctional instructor of His Majesty’s Correctional Services  in eSwatini (Swaziland) has instituted legal proceedings against the Commissioner General of His Majesty’s Correctional Services for discontinuing her salary over claims of absenteeism. Maziya says she was absent from work for a period of six months while undergoing treatment at an Indumba (a hut/room in which a traditional healers carry out treatments, cleansing ceremonies and rituals).

To support her claim the Traditional Health Organization compiled and forwarded a medical report to His Majesty’s Correctional Services confirming that Maziya was indeed receiving treatment from July 1, 2017 to December 2017.

The report that has been submitted as part of the evidence for the case, compiled by Dr, Busisiwe Makhabane from the Traditional Healers Organization supports Maziya who said that:

“Dr, Makhabane diagnosed me and observed that I was not only in severe and acute pain but was also seriously ill. According to the doctor, the sickness loosened my joints in both legs such that I would instantly fall down and be unable to walk.”


She also alleged that Dr. Makhabane found that the muscles in her legs would contract, causing both her legs to bend at her knees.

A traditional healer in Pretoria, South Africa. Photo: AFP/File

Maziya wants the court to declare the withholding of her salary as unconstitutional unlawful and irregular. Furthermore, that the court direct the Commissioner General of His Majesty’s Correctional Services to release her full salary from June 2017.

Her case is a test case and should form precedent for such cases in future.

Read: Traditional African medicine and conventional drugs: friends or enemies?

A similar Case

In 2012 a South African won a case in the Labour court of appeal against ‘unfair’ dismissal over absenteeism.


Johannah Mmelodi who had worked for the Kievitskroon Country Estate for eight years had been attending training in her free time to become a traditional healer. Once she completed the training she requested a month of unpaid leave to fully complete the process. Her request was turned down but she took the time off anyway after dropping off a sick note from a traditional healer at her employer’s office, that stated she was being “badly tormented by her ancestors”. This is what ultimately led to a disciplinary hearing that got her dismissed for absenteeism.

The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration found that Mmelodi’s dismissal was unfair, and had her reinstated to her post. Her employer retaliated by appealing the decision to which the Labour Appeals Court upheld the ruling stating that South Africa was a land of many cultures and that traditional Western culture could not be allowed to dominate the African culture of many of the country’s inhabitants.