South African Traditional Medicine


Traditional medicine features in the lives of thousands of people in South Africa every day. In fact it is estimated that 80% of the population uses traditional medicines.

Yet, so many stereotypes exist for the traditional healers and their medicines that are collectively called muti.

To begin to properly understand the healing dynamics of South African traditional healing and medicine lets begin looking at the medicines: the muti.

Muti is a word derived from medicinal plant and refers to traditionally sourced plant, mineral and animal based medicines.


Variuous bags of different plant muti

Muti has come to be associated and equated with body parts used for witchcraft in South Africa. One often hears about sensational stories of human killings to obtain human muti. This may happen on occasion but this is done by deranged individuals who have twisted beliefs, akin to serial killers in the western psyche. These atrocities are not truly indicative of what traditional healing is.


True traditional healing uses plants, minerals and animal products so as to bring about physiological or psychological effects in a person. Many animal fats for example contain hormones that have actions on the body and are therefore medicinal. Minerals too often have effects on mood and can be used to relax a person. All of nature can be used as medicines, even poisons in very small doses. The problem with animal muti is that it is not sustainable and the animal dies in the process of obtaining the medicine. Plant muti is a sustainable source of medicines without the type of animal suffering associated with animal muti.

South African traditional plant medicines are fascinating with so many colors forms and effects. It is an art to know these and to use them correctly to bring about health and harmony, the aim of all true traditional healers.

The traditional healers


The holders of healing power in the southern Bantu society are the traditional healers. 

For more on traditional healers see: Ngoma

I intend to expand this section with time, especially with regard to the training of traditional healers (all races) in South Africa which is facing many problems of power abuse/laziness for exploiting money from twasas (initiates) that is compromising good training and harming those on the path. This is all the more reason to find authentic integrous teachers.  

 Mrs. Letty Mamonyai Maponya 28 April 1953 — 2 July 2013.

Mrs. Letty Mamonyai Maponya 28 April 1953 — 2 July 2013.

I met Letty in 1999 and over the 14 years I knew her we made a journey together that was rich and rewarding with the lessons, joys and experiences shared.

Letty Maponya was a women of immense wisdom, patience, compassion, personal strength and dignity. Through her own healing journey she mastered her disturbing emotions in a manner that was tangible and consistent. I learnt from her that this mastering resulted from personal conviction, proper training and the use of psychoactive plant medicines.

Letty taught me about myself, how I can heal myself and what it is to be a healer, which she was a shining example of.

She was a pillar of strength to all those around her. She inspired me and will continue to inspire me with her rare example. She will be forever loved.

Letty (who I became used to writing as Leti and her for me Franswell) and I made regular visits to the muti market to buy plants to make into medicines.

Main street Johannesburg

Traders and healers at Johannesburg farady muti market

I learnt so much about the human condition from Letty Maponya. The methods she used to heal all depended on the nature of the complaint. Headaches she addressed with snuffing or inhaling burning medicines, inflammation with anti-inflammatory drinking medicines, bitter tonics for increasing appetite, sedative medicines for depression, vomiting medicines to clean the digestive system and to open the mind (open intuition and increase sensitivity), and antibiotic or immune boosting medicines for weakness or infection. She often adjusted a person by talking to the person who needed counseling and by also giving that person appropriate healing medicines.

Ubulawu medicine Popoma Silene pilosellifolia Manjishta (Ayurveda) or Rubia cordifolia, Intalibombo (Zulu)

Uzara Xysmalobium undulatum traditional medicine

Maphipa bark Rapanea melanpheleoeos

African traditional medicine holds within it much wealth on knowing ourselves and how to live correctly and in balance with ourselves and others. This holistic medicine heritage that all cultures have as traditional knowledge; including European, Asian, American, African heritage etc is under threat from culture change and modern society would benefit from embracing holistic medicine so as to not forget our roots to nature and healing.




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