Tuesday, September 26, 2023

How Botswana’s angst and hypocrisy pushes traditional medicine underground

Muti is a four letter word. Most Batswana consider the M word faux pas and will not mention in urbane company unless they are disparaging someone for believing in the power of black magic. 

The country’s hypocrisy towards traditional medicine has become the Vaseline of sapient discourse. In fact, in Botswana’s fake-o-meter this attitude towards traditional medicine ranks up there with effected English accents and knock off Brazilian hair pieces.

The country’s haunte monde scorn traditional doctors by day only to pull the Nicodimus stunt and consult them at night under the cover of darkness. If there is any industry where this hypocrisy plays out in force, it is in the Botswana sports. Local football which is the firmament of local celebrities, well heeled sponsors with deep pockets and A-list coaches is also the country’s biggest habitu├® of traditional healers.

Local football players call muti by the euphemism – “one two” and all have stories about how their pre match routine involves bathing in water doused with muti to fortify them for the encounter. With traditional doctors so entrenched in local football, coaches and team managers have usually opted to complement rather than attempt to displace them. 

Dr Sethunya Mosime, senior Sociology lecturer says people are ashamed to admit they consult traditional healers because they fear how people will perceive them. “The use of traditional medicine is often confused for witchcraft. People always sneak around, seeking help from traditional doctors because in churches they are told not to use traditional medicines even if you bumped into someone you know at a traditional healer you make sure not to utter that you saw them there. Back in the days, traditional medicine was used freely and in a proper way, today, part of the reason why people shun traditional medicine and healers is because what is meant to be a God-given gift is used illicitly such as killing people.” 

Traditional medicine has suffered a bad rap in Botswana. It is mostly dismissed as witchcraft. The assault against traditional medicine has caught a second wind with the mushrooming of fire churches. In what has turned out to be the country’s biggest battle of spiritual worlds, fire churches usually parade followers who give testimonies of how their pastors helped exorcise demons sent to them by witches and traditional doctors.

Doctor Monthusi Sekonopo, a revered traditional doctor based in Gaborone says traditional medicine used to be respected and revered before Western ideologies gave the tradition a bad name. “Back then, traditional healers were the glue that kept families together. They were called to every family meeting; they were the king’s advisors and were generally meant to help the people, now we are just an afterthought. Not all African spirituality is demonic, but people should know that there are African illnesses with African names and African methods of healing. We (traditional healers) consult with our ancestors who connect with the patient’s ancestors who know how that ancestral disease may be cured.”

Tebogo Kenosi who works as a cashier at Mr Price in Gaborone says she was raised in a home where traditional spirituality was a part of everyday life. “I grew up in a household where traditional rituals were done, mainly to thank the ancestors and ask for their guidance. Growing up, when I started consulting traditional healers on my own I was reluctant to tell people about it for fear of being judged and how people would perceive it. In the olden days people used traditional medicine freely because it was used in a proper way and not for heinous acts like killing innocent people, or performing illegal abortions, which we see happening today.”

She says a lot of traditional doctors are money driven and could care less about safe-guarding the people’s welfare.

Botshelo Gabonewe who works at a Furniture Mart branch in Gaborone says not all traditional healing is meant to harm. “My first visit to the traditional healer proved valuable in anything, the difference between me and many other people who visit the traditional doctor is ÔÇôI don’t hide it. With age I have come to accept that there are bigger forces that play a role in how our lives play out and there’s nothing wrong with seeking help from our ancestors.”


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