For the large number of Batswana who consult them, traditional healers are integral in the community as points for counselling and healthcare. More traditional healers, however, are exploiting this privilege to sexually abuse, deceive, rob and debase their clients. Mmegi Correspondent, TUMELO MOUWANE reports on the profession’s attempts to clean u
Increasingly in the justice system, cases of traditional healers abusing their clients are commonplace. From their time-honoured positions of respect within communities, traditional healers have fallen from grace as a few bad apples have been hauled before the courts for offences such as rape, obtaining by false pretences and others, many committed during “consultations”.
The healers, however, are fighting to restore dignity to their profession.
Recently in Lobatse, traditional and spiritual healers, as well as community leaders heard frank talk of the abuse that goes on once a client walks into the “consultation room”. Many cases go unreported, as clients fear the traditional healer’s power or the shame that comes with either reporting the incident or accusing the healer of a heinous act. Kabelo Atlholang, a traditional healer, admitted that abuses happen during ritual processes, but such perpetrators are not “real healers”.
For him, it is important that those claiming to be healers must be registered and known to the village or town leadership as a way of ensuring that desperate people seeking help are not abused. “It is true that nowadays traditional healers and spiritual healers have lost their credibility due to heinous crimes committed mostly by pretenders or uncertified healers. Crimes such as rape are very common. In some circumstances a healer will tell a client that the only way they will heal is when they consent to sexual intercourse so that the medication ‘transfers’.”.
“This is sexual exploitation and rape.
“In other cases, a healer will overcharge a client or even take away their property as payment for a ritual.
“People should remain vigilant against abuse even when they are desperate,” he says.
Atlholang proposes that regulations should be put in place to ensure that anyone claiming to be a traditional healer is certified and screened for previous criminal convictions, as a way of weeding out the bad seeds.
The Kanye traditional healer remembers a time when male traditional healers would attend to female clients, even bathing them, without any suggestion of impropriety. Healers valued the confidentiality of their consultations with clients and stuck close to the wisdom taught by older traditional healers.
The thought of sexual abuse or fraud was unheard of in
“When I was initiated into traditional healing several years ago, I was taught to be disciplined, to keep clients issues confidential and to never exploit my clients,” he says. “I have been very obedient to the teachings and I have assisted thousands of people without a single glitch. “It all comes from discipline. In the past it was not wrong for me as a male traditional healer to assist a female client, even to the extent of bathing her.
“We did not have thoughts of sexually exploiting our client.
“What is happening now is new to our field and the perpetrators are amateur healers coming in uncertified and untrained.” For Moahi Matshela, a spiritual healer and pastor, issues of abuse have always been present in local culture and even within church. Matshela says pastors are also part of the perpetrators of abuse as some take advantage of their positions in the churches. “There are many cases which have reached the courts where pastors were accused of rape, defilement and other offences. People should know that equality is a reality and women also deserve to be respected.
“They deserve leadership positions and they must not be taken as powerless,” he says.
The church has taken steps to limit the space within which abuse can take place.
“At my church when a client needs spiritual assistance, we pray for them and if it means that they need to take a holy bath, we assign women to help women and men to help men.
“In this way we are trying to avoid issues where healers abuse desperate clients who are always in desperate situations.”
Peleng customary court chief, Segale Letshele says the issue of abuse within traditional and spiritual healing circles is an issue of discipline on the part of practitioners. “It is all up to an individual’s discipline,” he says. “We may do the talking but if the people implicated in these issues are not taking it upon themselves to ensure that abuse and gender based violence are dealt away with, we will not achieve anything.”
The profession as a whole appears committed to rooting out the bad apples and returning to its former glory.