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The learning involved in the path of becoming a traditional healer in an African context.

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Traditional healing practices are generally utilised by black South Africans from different socio-economic backgrounds. These practices are highly valued by most, while disapproved by others. Scholars have drowned in various debates about the effectiveness of traditional healing practices, and some have recommended their inclusion in mainstream health care. It is claimed that merging Western forms of healing with African traditional healing practices could provide the best health care for African people as the African cosmology of health and illness strongly influences help-seeking patterns among South Africans. This study sought to understand the learning involved in the path of becoming a traditional healer in an African context. Furthermore, it sought to understand the role of the mentor and finally explore the extent to which learning variations exist in each of the three forms of practices investigated in this study: the Diviner’s practice, the Herbalist’s practice, and the Faith Healer’s practice. The study is located within a constructivist paradigm and uses key constructs from social learning theories as a conceptual framework. This exploratory research employed semi-structured interviews to gather the data from four participants: i.e., the mentor and mentee of the diviner, and the mentor of both the herbalist and faith healer who were purposefully sampled because of the knowledge they have. Collected data were translated into English and then thematically analysed. The key finding of this study indicated that the ancestral calling of the initiate precedes any form of training in certain forms of traditional healing practices. Also, it was found that some of the participants became traditional healers after either experiencing an illness or having certain dreams which upon in-depth analyses and interpretation by others, were understood to be the calling from the ancestors for one to become a healer. The study further revealed that one is called to become a traditional healer because someone in the ancestral lineage was a traditional healer when they were alive. Gobela at some stage happened to liaise with the ancestors through dreams during training sessions and the completion of the course is predominantly determined by the ancestors. In this study, I argue that learning to become a traditional healer is informal, not time-bound, and not structured.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.