Estimated annual incomes of South African traditional healers as generated by their practices and sales of their pre-modern traditional health products for 2015/2016

Andre Duvenhage, Gabriel Louw


In South Africa, it is an accepted fact that the main role players in the manufacturing and selling of so called traditional medicine (TAM) are traditional healers. The Traditional Health Practitioners Act No 22 not only strengthened this perception in 2007 by giving statutory recognition to traditional healers as traditional health practitioners, but also with its various definitions as they are reflected in the Act.

There is an estimation that South African research on traditional healing that TAM, specifically under the guardianship of the traditional healers, generates in excess of R2 billion (R2,000 million) annually.
The idea also exists that the traditional healers offer a widespread indispensable medical service, specifically through their medical and health products, which contributes to a further R1 billion (R1,000 million) or more in income.

The study aims to estimate the annual income generated by South African traditional healers in their practices and with the manufacturing, prescription and selling of their traditional health products for the period 2015/2016.

This is an exploratory and descriptive study that makes use of an historical approach by means of investigation and a literature review. The emphasis is on using current documentation like articles, books and newspapers as primary sources to reflect on the South African traditional healers’ estimated annual incomes as generated by their practices and the manufacturing, prescription and selling of their health and medical products for the period 2015/2016. The findings are offered in narrative form.

Over the years, it seems that a misconception was established in South Africa about what traditional medicines really are and who the specific manufacturers and sellers are. There is no differentiation between the traditional medicines offered and marketed in the South African retail and commercial market, and those prepared by traditional healers. Some traditional medicines are available from well-established outlets like pharmacies, modern-day health-shops and allied-traditional healthcare professionals like the statutory recognised homeopaths, naturopaths, phytopaths and ethnopaths. These medicines have to adhere to a formal manufacturing and scientific foundation, while traditional healers rely on self-made, pre-modern and untested indigenous mixtures. This lack in differentiation and scientific foundation has clouded the true ownership of traditional health and medical products as viewed and understood under the definition Traditional African Medicines (TAM). This vagueness also obstructs the compilation of a profile of the incomes generated by the various role players in their practices and by manufacturing and selling of traditional medical and health products. The end result is a misrepresentation of sales statistics in South African literature on traditional healers and their self-made health products and untested mixtures.

The present-day statistics cited in literature of annual incomes of between R2 billion (R2,000 million) and R3.4 billion (R3,400 million), roughly an average of R2.7 billion (R2,700 million), from the sales of traditional health products and mixtures by South African traditional healers, are false. What is more, South African literature generally reflects an erroneous classification of who the true manufacturers and sellers of traditional health and medical products are, and what “traditional medicines” really mean. This has led to an acceptance of South African traditional healers and their untested and risky health products and mixtures based on a misconception that they are the true manufacturers, sellers and owners of TAM.

The most prominent role player in the manufacturing and selling of traditional medicines and the true income-generator seems to be the formal South African industry of complementary/-alternative medicines (CAM). This comprehensive, well-established and prominent medicines industry has been manufacturing and marketing South African traditional medicines for decades. They do this scientifically as a viable and sustainable enterprise.

In comparison, there are the traditional healers’ unscientific practices and the medical products that they manufacture and sell outside of the formal healthcare sector. There is no sound foundation and substantiated evidence in the literature to confirm their primary role as manufacturers, developers and sellers of the modern-day South African traditional medical and health products. They fail the test as scientific, viable and sustainable role players in the field of South African traditional healing and TAM.
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