Video call with a traditional healer? Once unthinkable, it’s now common in South Africa

Remote consults allowed South Africa’s healers to weather the pandemic. Now many embrace the accessible option, though some think technology has no place in their practice.

1. Videoconferencing is becoming a common practice among traditional healers in South Africa, just as remote working has become the norm in the corporate world.

2. However, some within the traditional healing industry are reluctant to embrace technology.

3. South Africa legally recognizes the healers under its Traditional Health Practitioners Act 22 of 2007.

In May 2020, two months into South Africa’s strict Covid-19 lockdown, Makhosi Keagile Kamo Malatji decided to purchase a ring light and a second smartphone. She needed them for her online consultations, conducted over WhatsApp video calls from her shrine at home in east Johannesburg.

“Obviously, we were forced not to work, but that didn’t take away from people needing spiritual help or guidance,” Malatji, a sangoma — or a traditional healer believed to have access to the spirit world — told Rest of World. “At that point, I felt I needed to make it work for me, so I started doing online consultations.”

Nearly three years on, just as remote working has become the norm in the corporate world, online consultations have become common practice among South African sangomas.

Traditional healers like Malatji are important to South African culture, and the country legally recognizes them under its Traditional Health Practitioners Act 22 of 2007. Typically, sangomas are consulted for the treatment of physical illnesses using herbal remedies or for spiritual insights.

Malatji said that during video consultations, healers like her use the same protocols that they would have used in face-to-face meetings, provided they have sufficient information about the client, such as their full name and facial appearance. While she still prefers to conduct her first meeting with a new client in person, Malatji said she is fully equipped for the online model, with her practice registered as a private company and a corporate bank account that allows her to receive payments.

Sdumo Viwe, a sangoma in Cape Town, told Rest of World that videoconferencing allowed him access to clients he previously could not have reached, especially those in other cities. “I think technology is already playing a huge role,” Viwe said.  “The fact that we are not face-to-face, you [the reporter] are in Johannesburg, and I’m in Cape Town. So, it’s already a huge platform because you are able to access many people in different places.”

Viwe told Rest of World he gets several clients from other parts of the country as his patients recommend him to their friends and family. He said he also hosts Facebook Live sessions to educate his followers about the different types of physical or spiritual ailments and how to cure them.

According to 6Wresearch, a New Delhi-based market research firm, South Africa’s video conferencing market is expected to have a compound annual growth rate of 11.8% between 2021 and 2027. The internet penetration rate in the country was 68.2% at the start of 2022. 

For Malatji, the current trajectory of her profession brings together the old and the new. But some within the traditional healing industry are reluctant to embrace videoconferencing.

68.2% The internet penetration rate for South Africa at the beginning of 2022. A Johannesburg resident who frequently speaks to sangomas via videoconferencing told Rest of World that the convenience it offers clients like her is indispensable. “You don’t have to move from home or hire a car,” she said, asking to remain anonymous to protect her privacy and reasons for consulting with a sangoma.

Despite having embraced technology, Malatji stresses that digital conferencing will never overtake in-person consultations in importance. Instead, it will provide balance. “It will remain as a part of the future of the practice, and we will always have a hybrid system,” Malatji said. 

Media Courtesy : Rest of World

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