Many traditional healers or sangomas are using online platforms like Zoom and WhatsApp video call to consult with patients. However, it does not sit well with those who view this as undermining African heritage and making this traditional practice fashionable.

Traditional healer, Celuxolo Stewart, known as Gogo Simenjalo, says traditional healing is part of African heritage.

“Our indigenous health system is to prevent us from falling sick. Ukuhlola (consultation) for instance is very holistic. We will check your spiritual standing, biological standing, how your body is doing. It is all-encompassing. So, if we go into that space of Bo-Gogo that’s the beauty of it. If you take the time to consult you going to be given the whole breakdown of your well-being. It is preventative as well.”

Sangomas are a big part of many African cultures. They heal the sick and are regarded as a medium between the ancestors and those in the physical world.

Virtual consultations

The COVID-19 pandemic and the hard lockdowns impacted traditional healing and many healers were forced to innovate and adapt to continue consulting clients and earn a living to feed their families.

Gogo Simenjalo is one of those who decided to consult patients online. She also runs Afrosavvy, a website to educate the youth on African identity, African spirituality, and African history.

“I put up my tripod, I put up the camera and we do…there’s WhatsApp video calling I think that’s the most popular that I find I am using. We can do a Zoom Hlola (consultation) as well. I found that I light a candle on my end, and I ask you beforehand that you light a candle on your end, a white candle. For me, that serves as a point of connection for the two of us.”

Radio presenter Khumbuzile Thabethe, known as Mkhulu Mavundo, doesn’t’ think that the use of technology to consult patients undermines the practice of traditional healing. She’s tried virtual consultation before.

“A virtual consultation for me…Uhmmm…Hai inzima (it’s hard), you know. I have done it through WhatsApp, it went well I did not have any problems. But nje the admin of having to stop, start, record, ai, it becomes so tedious but what can one do? I have had moments where I speak to a person on the phone, a total stranger and the ancestors came through with messages. So, in a nutshell, it is doable it is just it differs from person to person with preference. I prefer to do an in-person consultation or reading.”

Limit virtual consultations

Malai Janet Dlamini, known as Gogo Molahlehi, is with the Traditional Healers Organisation. She says that some traditional healers have been using new technology for some time but it has become widespread under the hard lockdown.

She says as an organisation they don’t condone virtual consultations.

“We not saying it is wrong. What we are saying is, it must be limited. So that uzozihlupha ukuyo hlala phansi no mlaphi we ndabhuko akhulume nawe. Eye contact is very important. So, we say as that we are not condoning it.”

There’s been an increase in the number of online platforms and apps where traditional healers profile and market themselves to potential clients or patients. 27-year-old Gogo Dumezizweni is an initiate and like any young person, uses technology a lot and has a social media presence.

Sporting a fashionable hairdo and a gold tooth – Gogo Dumezizweni – doesn’t see the need to use social media platforms to market herself.

“For one, I believe the ancestors will bring you, clients. I don’t believe I need to market myself to gain clientele. When I am dressed in this traditional garb, I believe people can tell that I’m a traditional healer. I don’t condone those who do that, is like you don’t trust your ancestors. I am on Facebook, I post my pictures, I do get people asking me questions and I tell them to find someone to consult. I am not against those who do that.”

But what do people on the streets feel about this?

“It appears that the ancestors have also upgraded. Even preachers are on television they do offer prayers over the phone. We need to keep up with the times. We used to sleep on the floor now we sleep on the bed.”

“You blow into the bones and the healer tells you your problems. So how will that happen on the phone?”

Despite these differences, there’s still agreement though that traditional healing is part of African heritage and must be preserved for future generations.