Will the Traditional Health Practitioners Act (Act No 22, 2007) challenge the holy grails of South African medical doctors?

Andre Duvenhage, Gabriel Louw


The South African healthcare establishment is primarily managed and overseen by medical doctors. This powerbase was established over many years, especially after the early 1930s. World War II gave doctors the final approval to take this supervisory and sole decision-making role regarding healthcare training, practice models and other health workers in South Africa. This phenomenon led initially to doctors having a certain jurisdiction to set the pace and to make the rules.

This jurisdiction became more comprehensive and extent with time in South Africa to include a collection of unique medical traditions, customs, privileges, habits, healthcare rights and empowerment as well as exclusive medical training and practice models to become known as the holy grails of the South African medical doctors. The power of these holy grails has become untouchable to anyone outside the medical domain. Since the 1980s, some powers vested in these holy grails have been lost to the allied health professions and to other insiders of the HPCSA brotherhood itself.

The recognition of traditional healers by means of the Traditional Health Practitioners Act (Act No 22, 2007) seems to challenge these holy grails of medical doctors. This may also create internal conflict in the South African medical brotherhood that can cost medical doctors more ground.

The study aimed to determine if the Traditional Health Practitioners Act No 22 (2007) challenges the holy grails of South African medical doctors, subsequently affecting the long-established management and guardian system of the medical field within South Africa or the practice rights of medical doctors.

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 possible effect of the Traditional Health Practitioners Act No 22 (2007) and traditional healers on the holy grails of South African medical doctors. The findings are offered in narrative form.

It is clear that South African medical doctors are still largely in charge of all healthcare management. This fraternity serves as gatekeepers in relation to what medical healers are allowed, the level of their training and even their future. Newcomers like the allied and traditional health practitioners are not easily allowed into the medical doctors’ domain.

The South African medical doctors’ interests as a specific healthcare provider group seem to be so well established that they give no thought to making dramatic changes to the present-day medical models and systems that they manage. They are not keen to relinquish any significant power as a group within the healthcare domain. This attitude means that the Traditional Health Practitioners Act no 22 (2007) can create enormous problems for South African medical doctors in future.
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