African Traditional Medicine

(Nelson Mandela School of Medicine, Durban, 12 February 2009)

I shall start with a few remarks on the “germ theory of diseases”, which is the pride of Western scientific medicine. The typical advocate of Western scientific medicine takes the germ theory for granted, supposedly discovered by Semmelweis in the 1840s and systematically formulated by Pasteur in the 1860s.

Western medical doctors and medical researchers are free to say that this theory was discovered, for the first time, for the West, in the 1840s and 1860s; but they cannot say this is true for the whole world.

I shall argue now that the germ theory was known in African society before Colonialism; evidence for that is found in the teachings and principles for behavior in African society, teachings and principles of behavior which were aimed at prevention of infections.


These teachings and principles for behavior were found in just about all African societies and communities, from Ancient Egypt to the our time. Opportunities for implementing these principles have been heavily undermined by poverty, slave conditions of existence, by oppression, by starvation, famine, and underdevelopment.

I was brought up in Zulu culture, so I shall speak of teachings and principles of behavior in Zulu culture.

In traditional African society, the greatest stress was put on cleanliness, on washing of hands, and on the washing of the body. Keeping the body clean and protected, obviously from germs and harmful elements, is very important in African culture. Let us begin in Ancient Egypt: Herodotus tells us that the Egyptians “wear linen clothes which they make a special point of continually washing. They circumcise themselves for cleanliness’ sake, preferring to be clean rather than comely. The priests shave their bodies all over every other day to guard against the presence of lice…” (Herodotus, op. cit., p. 143)

African culture put a lot of stress on preventing food from being infected by germs carried by human beings.

1.     Upon waking up, every person was expected to wash the face and hands before touching food.

2.     One had to wash one’s hands, and the udder of the cow, before starting to milk the cow, to prevent milk from becoming infected by germs.

3.     Our culture did not allow anyone to sweep the floor next to where people were eating. Even when people were not eating, it was taught that one had to sprinkle water on the floor, before beginning to sweep, to keep the germs imprisoned on the floor, preventing them from flying all over.

4.     Zulus, most of the time, did not lift food from the containers to their mouths with spoons and folks. They used hands. But the hands had to washed, first. To prevent germs coming from the mouths of the people eating from one bowl, the hand that lifts food to the mouth does not pick the food from the bowl. The right hand picks the food from the bowl, and delivers the food to the left hand; and it is the left hand which lifts the food to the mouth. This was for hygienic reasons!



In the light of the connection between contact with dead human bodies and the discovery of the germ theory of diseases by Semmelweis, in Vienna, in 1848, it is very interesting to learn about the hygienic concerns of Africans regarding dead bodies.

Lecturers in medical schools stress to their students how dangerous a dead body is, from the point of view of possible infections which can be derived from the hosts of germs in and around a dead body. The medical students who had been working with cadavers in the First Maternity Division, in the Vienna of the 1840s, infected the mothers who had just given birth, resulting in the death of many of them.

If there is anything in African culture which shows that Africans had a germ theory of disease, it is the precautionary customs intended by Africans to keep the germs in and around a dead body in check.

In most African cultures, there is an important ritual that must be performed by everyone coming from the grave to the homestead, but before entering the home of the deceased: that is to wash hands. C. T. Msimang has written as follows regarding this ritual:

“Emva komngcwabo, sebezokhukhula bonke baqonde emfuleni. Isifazane kwelaso izibuko siyogeza, nesilisa sigeze sodwa. Abanye bathi kugezwa ngomsuzwane wonke umzimba, nokho-ke iningi ligeza ngamanzi ewodwa. Abanye njalo bageza ngesiqunga. Bazothi bangageza bese bechitheka abantu, babuyele emizini yabo, abomndeni babuyele kwamufi.” (Msimang, C. T., Kusadliwa Ngoludala, Pietermaritzburg, Shuter and Shooter, 1975, p. 144)

What is very interesting is that, not infrequently, a herb with strong disinfectant and antibiotic powers (such as inhlaba) is put in the water that is used for washing hands and the body after a funeral.

What also happens is the thorough, disinfectant cleaning of the house, particularly of the room in which the body was placed: (Lapha kwamufi sekuzosindwa zonke izindlu.” (Ibid., p. 145) Even the clothing and blankets used by the deceased were thoroughly cleansed.

If you take time to think seriously about the meaning and implication of all these teachings and principles of behaviour, discussed above, which are contained in African culture, and were contained in African cultures for centuries before conquest by European nations, you should see clearly that all these teachings and principles of behavior presupposed the possession of a germ theory of disease by Africans, for centuries before this theory was discovered in Europe in the 19th century. This was the germ theory of diseases in action, contained in African culture.

African Traditional Medicine is holistic in approach: processes of the physical

body, and of the mind, and of emotions and spirit, work together in determining good health or ill-health; the equation of good health, or ill-health, also includes the interaction and relationship between nature, the cosmos, and human beings. Practitioners of African Traditional Medicine must have in-depth knowledge of all the parts of this equation of good health and ill-health, and on the mutual influence of the parts. The philosophical underpinning of African Traditional Medicine is UBUNTU:   Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu/ A human being is a human being through other human beings.


One of the important causal factors considered in African Traditional Medicine is the type of relations existing between the particular individual and other human beings, both the living, and those who

have passed away. Thus philosophy/religion, psychiatry, physiology and

biology, are all part and parcel of the conception of African Traditional


Modern Western Medical Science presupposes a study of the

essence of Nature, and of the laws governing Nature, including the human body as a part of Nature -hence the study of physics, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, and biology; psychology and psychiatry are also increasingly becoming an important component of Modern Western Medicine. African Traditional Medicine also bases itself upon a similar understanding of Nature  –but, in line with Traditional Medicine all over the world, African Traditional Medicine adds another dimension to the study of Nature. African Traditional Philosophy does not regard Nature as a `thing’,  as an `instrument’ to be manipulated by Human Beings. In African

Philosophy, the Human Being should not be a reckless `Sovereign  Ruler’ over Nature, doing as he/she pleases with Nature. In African Philosophy, Nature is a living force, with Personality, Protocol, and Will of her own. This cannot be judged to be rubbish and too far-fetched, in the light of accumulating findings of modern scientific research. The boundaries separating human beings from      animals and from nature are no longer as clear, indisputable, and  wide, as many people like to think:

“All living beings contain DNA, be they bacteria, carrots, or humans. DNA, as a substance, does not vary from one species to another; only the order of its letters changes…When we walk in a field, DNA and the cell-based life it codes for are everywhere: inside our own bodies, but also in the puddles, the mud, the cow pies, the grass on which we walk, the air we breathe, the birds, the trees, and everything that leaves. This global network of DNA-based life, this biosphere, encircles the entire earth.” (Narby, Jeremy, The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge, op. cit., pp. 110-111)

New evidence from scientific research is revealing astonishing affinities between animals and Human Beings in the workings of the minds, sociality, and cultures of animals and Human Beings.

Here is an example regarding fish:

“Fish have some of the most complex social systems known,”

Michael Taborsky, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Bern in Switzerland, said. “You see fish helping each other. You see cooperation and forms of reciprocity.” Dr. Taborsky and his colleagues have studied the social lives of African cichlids, colorful freshwater fish from Lake Tanganyika. The cochlids live in relatively large groups of 10 or so individuals, a dominant breeding pair and a retinue of adult and adolescent helpers. The helpers share in all duties…They defend territory, they help keep the nests tidy and they clean, fan and oxygenate the breeding pair’s eggs. When the eggs hatch into larvae, the helpers take up the babies in their mouths for cleaning…Significantly, the helper fish are often unrelated to the royal pair over whose spawn they so officiously fawn. What’s in it for the helpers? “We call it pay to stay,” Dr. Taborsky said. “Helpers are allowed to stay in the territory and gain security and protection against predators. But they have to pay rent, so to speak, or they risk being expelled.” (Angier, Natalie, “What People Owe Fish: A Lot,” New York Times, February 19, 2008)

The philosophy and perspective of African Traditional Medicine does not hold the view that sociality, culture, communication skills, and rationality are exclusive characteristic features of Human Beings and do not extend to the rest of Nature. The recent findings of scientific research seem to be in line with this philosophy and perspective.

“Researchers who study highly gregarious and relatively brainy species like rhesus monkeys, baboons, dolphins, sperm whales, elephants and wolves have lately uncovered evidence that creatures engage in extraordinarily sophisticated forms of politicking, often across large and far-flung social networks.” (Angier, Natalie, “Basics, Political Animals -Yes, Animals,” New York Times, January 22, 2008)

The respect for nature and for animals in African Traditional Medicine, and in African Philosophy, in general, is, therefore, not nonsensical, but has a basis in genuine science. African Traditional Philosophy, therefore, made the regard and respect for Nature, for Ecology, a top priority matter. This is a matter directly related to Health and ill-Health, in the view of African Traditional Medicine. This is in line with the campaign of ecologists and humanists for a more humane relationship and understanding between Human Beings and Nature. The official recognition, empowerment, and institutionalization of African Traditional Medicine, and its incorporation within the National Health-Care System, shall be a precious enrichment to science and to ecology-friendly policies and behavior in the entire world.   

All traditional medicine, of which African traditional medicine is an example, is holistic in its approach, adhering without question to the acceptance of the functional and organic unity and interdependence of the universe; there is hardly any space for the concept of `inanimate nature’ in the African world-view. It takes for granted the dialectical unity and interaction of the world and of the universe, and the mutual influence of all the parts and processes: this does not mean that all the interactions and links in the unity are clear to us, at any one time –innumerable numbers and types of links in the unity of human beings, society, nature, and the cosmos, are yet to be known or discovered: the scope for research and new knowledge is enormous.

We must also know that traditional healers differ in gifts, talents, and aptitudes. Just as Western medicine knows of geniuses, exceptionally talented ones, the average, the mediocre, bad ones, and those who must not be allowed to touch patients, the same undoubtedly applies to traditional healers. It is important to identify and know the geniuses and exceptionally talented ones, and their particular gifts.

African traditional healers do not get their medicine from factories or laboratories, but directly from nature –from herbs, plants, bushes, grasses, trees, even certain rocks. In the world-view of traditional healers, nature is at once a Master Being and a Unity of Beings with built-in purposes; nature is not a lifeless thing, there to be manipulated and used for purposes decided solely by Human Beings; nature has mind and spirits and Personality of its own. Puritanism split and fragmented the Unity of life –into (a) a distant, independent God, the Lord of the Universe, (b) the Human Being on Earth, who seeks to be master over nature, and (c) nature, which is without purpose, spirit, and personality of its own, which is a mere tool/instrument of Human Beings for the realization of their own purposes.

Actually, the fragments of knowledge within modern science, itself, when unified, speak of the unity of nature; however, these fragments within Western scientific knowledge, are yet to be put together into a world-view of the unity of human beings, society, nature, and the cosmos. Listen to this: “All living beings contain DNA, be they bacteria, carrots, or humans. DNA, as a substance, does not vary from one species to another; only the order of its letters change…When we walk in a field, DNA and the cell-based life it codes for are everywhere: inside our own bodies, but also in the puddles, the mud, the cow pies, the grass on which we walk, the air we breathe, the birds, the trees, and everything that lives. The global network of DNA-based life, this biosphere, encircles the entire earth.” (Jeremy Narby, The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge, pp. 110-111) “DNA and its duplication mechanisms are the same for all living creatures. The only thing that changes from one species to another is the order of the letters.” (Narby, p. 90)

If the same DNA, the code guiding the formation of mind, personality, body, and spirit, is the thread running through human beings, animals, trees, grass, and more, in nature, we are not far off the point in suspecting a certain commonality in all these units of nature. Is this not what led the young Marx to predict a reunification of Human history and Nature in our mind, in the future, based on practical reality? “Natural science will one day incorporate the science of man, just as the science of man will incorporate natural science: there will be a single science.” (Marx, K., Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts)

When traditional healers go to the forest and fields and mountains to collect raw material for their healing mixtures, they go there as Human beings with personality encountering a part of nature with personality, too. They approach each plant, tree, grass, or mineral-laden rock, with respect, and ask for a partnership with this aspect of nature for healing purposes. Certain trees or bushes, or plants, can only be approached at certain specific times of the day, at specific angles, accompanied by specific ritual. This is Personality meeting Personality.

We must also ponder over the health crisis in the post-colonial world. We can state it as an axiom that all health-care and medicinal systems that work must be harmoniously linked to the culture and traditions of the civilization of the people served by that system of health-care and medicine. The successful diffusion of culture from one civilization to another involves the naturalization of the new into the civilization. Otherwise the new remains an implant, hanging above the culture and traditions of the masses of people, not organically in harmony with the body of the civilization. In African society, there are two cultural complexes from the West, which have not gone through the process of successful naturalization: the Western form of State, and the Western paradigm of Health-care resting upon the Western philosophy of science.

Racism not only kept Whites separated and segregated, physically, from Africans; it also kept the ideas and culture of Europeans separated and segregated from the ideas and culture of African people; there was no spontaneous integration of Whites and Africans physically and culturally. Therefore, European concepts and practices of medicine and healing remained alien to, and unconnected with, African concepts and practices of medicine and healing. Indeed, while relations between Europeans and Africans were hostile, so relations between Western ideas and African ideas remained antagonistic.

The normalization of human relations between Europeans and Africans must be the context within which there is synthesis, harmonious coexistence, and integration, of concepts and philosophies issuing from the two differing civilizations. The Western health care and medicinal system is not yet linked harmoniously to the African health care and medicinal system –hence the health care crisis in post-colonial society.

While most traditional healers become healers as a response to a ”calling”, and do their work on the basis of constant communication with an Ancestor or a Departed being, this does not mean that there is no on-going research in their work, in the forests or fields, or through discussion with other healers. Above all, of course, traditional healers are beneficiaries of research findings which have come down to them from generations and centuries past. We are informed, for example, that “74 percent of the modern pharmacopoeia’s plant-based remedies were first discovered by `traditional’ societies.” (Jeremy Narby, op. cit.)

Most major discoveries in Western science have been triggered by intuition or inspiration. Discoveries and accumulation of Western science is not a result of a straight unbroken line of objective fact upon objective fact. There are bridges between objective fact and objective fact at certain critical times in the search for the truth; these bridges are often intuition and inspiration occurring outside laboratories, while walking, playing chess, eating in a restaurant, playing with a child, sleeping, etc. “Most of the revolutionary theories concerning nature and the physical world have come from flights of intuition.” (John U. Nef, War and Human Progress, 1963, p. 168) So, no Western scientist should look down upon traditional healers because these healers are aided by interventions of dreams, intuition, inspiration, and communication with Ancestors.

A traditional healer will take a whole leaf from a tree, grind it a little, put it in a pot or bowl with water, then heat the contents or bring the pot to boil. The traditional healer is not obsessed with the desire to know what sub-units or ingredients are contained within the leaf. The modern bio-chemist will tell you that the leaf contains hundreds if not thousands of chemical processes or compounds. If the mixture made from that leaf shows curative powers, the methodology of Western medical science will prescribe  a long process of research, which may take years, aimed at finding out which of the hundreds or thousands of chemical compounds, or sub-units, within the leaf is, or are, the `active ingredients’ responsible for the healing powers of the leaf. The mindset, here, is guided by the urge to differentiate, individualize, and isolate.


This differentiation, individualization, and isolation of what are essentially unified, interdependent, and mutually influencing factors in nature and society bring about severe distortions in research findings and conclusions. This has harmful effects on practical life and policies. Wrong theory gives rise to wrong research methodology, which produces and re-enforces wrong theory, which in turn gives rise to wrong practical policies. We see this clearly in the efforts by modern medical scientists to find a cure for cancer. An outstanding article appeared five years ago on efforts to find a cure for cancer. (Clifton Leaf, “Why We Are Losing the War On Cancer –and How to Win It, Fortune, No. 5, March 29, 2004) The core of the author’s argument is that the war against cancer has been hampered and harmed by the wrong mindset of the scientists and the wrong research methodology followed. After interviewing many experts on cancer on why we are not making much progress towards finding a cure for cancer, the author states:

“Yet virtually all these experts offered testimony that, when taken together, describes a dysfunctional `cancer culture’ –a groupthink that pushes tens or thousands of physicians and scientists toward the goal of finding the tiniest improvements in treatment rather than genuine breakthroughs; that fosters isolated (and redundant) problem solving instead of cooperation; that rewards academic achievement and publication over all else.” P. 46

“The search for knowledge has become an end unto itself rather than the means to an end. And research has become increasingly narrow, so much so that physician-scientists who want to think systematically about cancer or the organism as a whole –or who have completely new approaches- often can’t get funding. Take…the NCI’s chief funding mechanism, something called an R01 grant. The grants are generous, averaging $338,000 apiece in 2003…But the money goes almost entirely to researchers who focus on very specific genetic or molecular mechanisms within the cancer cell or other tissue. The narrower the research niche, it sometimes seems, the greater the rewards the researcher is likely to attain. “The incentives are not aligned with the goals,” says Leonard Zwelling, vice-president for research administration at M. D. Anderson, voicing the feeling of many. “If the goal is to cure cancer, you don’t incentivize people to have little publications.”

Jean-Pierre Issa, a colleague of Zwelling’s…is equally frustrated by the community’s mindset. Still, he admits, the system’s lure is powerful. “You get a paper where you change one gene ever so slightly and you have a drastic effect on cancer in the mouse, and that paper gets published in Science or Nature, and in your best journals. That makes your reputation. Then you start getting grants based on that,” he says. “Open any major journal and 80% of it is mice or drosophila [fruit flies] or nematodes [worms]. When do you get human studies in there?”

Indeed, the cancer community has published an extraordinary 150,855 experimental studies on mice…Guess how many of them have led to treatments for cancer? Very, very few. In fact, if you want to understand where the War on Cancer went wrong, the mouse is a pretty good place to start.” (p. 48)

A mouse gene may be very similar to a human gene, but the rest of the mouse is very different…The fact that so many cancer researchers seem to forget or ignore this observation when working with “mouse models” in the lab clearly irks Robert Weinberg [Professor of Biology at MIT] “One of the most frequently used experimental models of human cancer is to take human cancer cells that are grown in a Petri dish, put them in a mouse –in an immunocompromised mouse- allow them to form a tumor, and then expose the resulting xenograft to different kinds of drugs that might be useful in treating people. These are called preclinical models.” Weinberg explains. “Despite the genetic and organ-system similarities between a nude mouse and a man in a hospital gown, he says, the two species have key differences in physiology, tissue architecture, metabolic rate, immune system function, molecular signaling, you name it. So the tumors that arise in each, with the same flip of a genetic switch, are vastly different. Says Weiberg: “A fundamental problem which remains to be solved in the whole cancer research effort, in terms of therapies, is that the preclinical models of human cancer, in large part, stick.” (p. 52)

Here is the defining difference between the search for the truth in modern Western medical science, on the one hand, and the search for the truth in traditional medicine: “Open any major journal and 80% of it is mice or drosophila [fruit flies] or nematodes [worms]. When do you get human studies in there?” (p. 48)

The traditional healer derives his/her medicine directly from nature. He/she does not seek or make artificial chemical equivalents of nature; he/she does not deal with chemicals, but with the plant, the leaf, root, herb, or part of a tree. The effects of these plants, roots, herbs, grasses and parts of trees and rocks on animals and human beings have been observed by traditional people over centuries and millennia –over the lifespan of entire Humankind. A traditional healer will take a whole leaf from a tree, grind it a little, put it in a pot or bowl with water, then heat the contents or bring the pot to boil. From the point of view of the desired curative effect on sick human beings, the traditional healer is not obsessed with taking the leaf apart; the healer is not obsessed with the desire to know what sub-units or ingredients are contained within the leaf.

The modern Western-trained bio-chemist will tell you that the leaf contains hundreds if not thousands of chemical processes or compounds. If the mixture made from that leaf shows curative powers, the methodology of Western medical science will prescribe  a long process of research, which may take years, aimed at finding out which of the hundreds or thousands of chemical compounds, or sub-units, within the leaf is, or are, the `active ingredients’ responsible for the healing powers of the leaf. The mindset, here, is guided by the urge to differentiate, individualize, and isolate.

Another decisively important or dangerous step taken by Western science was to leave the forest or nature alone, and manufacture artificially the chemical or chemicals observed by the bio-chemists in nature, in laboratories, and mix them together to approximate the curing powers of the leaf. This, by and large, is the route taken by modern Western science in the production of medicine, a route that leads to harmful side-effects, and increases tremendously the importance of exact dosage. By and large, it is not medicine which is dangerous, but the artificially-produced chemicals. Modern medicine is largely chemistry-based, whereas traditional medicine is botany-based.

This mindset, and the practice that follows, are, in the world-view of traditional healers, a gross violation of the reality of nature. Nature is one totality, made up of innumerable parts and processes which interact and mutually influence one another. It is a unity of like, near-like, and unlike processes which continuously affect and change one another. One part, in isolation, may be poison which may kill. However, when mixed with another, or other parts and processes, the poison may be counteracted, weakened, or cancelled. The traditional world-view sees a nature which is a unity of balance and imbalance, of equilibrium and disequilibrium, of harmony and disharmony. The totality is a unity of like, near-like, and unlike, which mutually influence one another. The mindset obsessed with isolating the process, or part, which belongs to the totality, and viewing it in isolation, creates problems and abnormality both for the isolated process and for the totality of nature. This results in dangerous side-effects.

The danger inherent in chemicals, when isolated as medicine, is what made Western-trained medical researchers to turn to animals as stand-ins for human beings –even though this methodology is side-tracking medical research away from the true understanding of diseases in human beings.

Homer Pearce, who once ran cancer research and clinical investigations at Eli Lilly and is now research fellow at the drug company, agrees that mouse models are “woefully inadequate…” “If you look at the millions and millions of mice that have been cured, and you compare that to the relative success, or lack thereof, that we have achieved in the treatment of metastatic disease clinically…you realize that there just has to be something wrong with those models…” Although drug companies clearly recognize the problem, they haven`t fixed it. And they`d better, says Weinberg, “if for no other reason than [that] hundreds of millions of dollars are being wasted every year by drug companies using these models.” (p. 52)

If everyone understands there`s a problem, why isn`t anything being done? Two reasons, says Weinberg. First, there`s no other model with which to replace that poor mouse. Second…”is that the FDA has created inertia because it continues to recognize these [models] as the gold standard for predicting the utility of drugs.” (p. 53)

This gross distortion in modern Western medical research, and the vastly lucrative grants that go to researchers despite this incorrect “preclinical model of human cancer”, is a manifestation of the dehumanization of human beings in highly developed commodity-producing societies. In modern Western medical research culture, the `poor mouse’ has become a fetish, a clear indication of the alienation of human beings from human beings. In Marx’s analysis of Alienated Labour, “The animal becomes human and the human becomes animal.” (Karl Marx, “Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts”, in Karl Marx: Early Writings, Translated and edited by T. B. Bottomore, 1964; see also Marx’s analysis of “fetishism” generated by advanced stages of commodity production, in Capital, Volume 1, New York, International Publishers, 1967, pp. 72-80)

The sponsoring and financing of medical research by huge profit-making corporations have to a considerable extent introduced distortions in the direction of research and in conclusions of so-called scientific research. “Over the past two decades the pharmaceutical industry has moved very far from its original high purpose of discovering and producing useful new drugs. Now primarily a marketing machine to sell drugs of dubious benefit, this industry uses its wealth and power to co-opt every institution that might stand in its way, including the US Congress, the FDA, academic medical centres, and the medical profession itself –most of its marketing efforts are focused on influencing doctors, since they must write the prescriptions.” (Marcia Angell, “The Truth About the Drug Companies”, New York Review of Books, July 15, 2004) The bad side-effect of this powerful and concentrated activity of Drug Companies is that the mindset of the medical profession, and of researchers, becomes dominated by drugs and drug prescription, instead of by the comprehensive understanding of what might be the causes of diseases –which should bring into view the totality of the relationship between human beings, nutrition, society, nature, and the cosmos. In answer to a comment on her article by Lawrence Sincich, Marcia Angell states the following: “There is no question in my mind that medical researchers, educators, and clinicians have become corrupted by their close and lucrative ties to industry… (“The Drug Companies and the Universities”, a letter by Lawrence Sincich, and reply by Marcia Angell, New York Review of Books, Volume 51, Number 20, December 16, 2004) One terrible side-effect of the link between the Pharmaceutical industry and scientific research is the bending of the designs and results of research to suit the interests of the industry. There are plenty of examples of this terrible side-effect of the power and lure of money stretching further, to the bending of the decisions of officials in departments, ministries, and governments in favour of the interests of private industry. There is also the terrible power of racism, as the dominant ideology, in bending the design and results of so-called scientific research, of which the notorious Syphilis Study in the US, and the direction of scientific result by Nazism, are examples (Robert Jay Lifton, The Nazi Doctors, London, Macmillan, 1986).

The turning away from forests and nature, as experienced by traditional healers, to artificial, factory production of chemicals observed in the process of nature; the turning away from the botany-basis of medicine to the chemistry-basis of modern medicine, have been far from a blessing for human beings, nutrition, human society, nature, and the cosmos.

The mindset which led to the artificial production of chemicals has led to an over-chemicalization of our environment, which manifests itself in three harmful effects threatening our very survival:

1.     The over-chemicalization of the soil. We originally thought it was a great advance when modern science manufactured artificial chemicals in factories, which are put in the soil as aid to modern `scientific’ agriculture. There is clear suspicion now that we may have harmed the natural vitality and health of the soil, raising serious questions about the vitality and wholesomeness of the products of such soils, as well as questions about the wholesomeness of the effects of such products on human bodies. The movement for organic farming, i. e., farming without using artificially-produced chemicals in the soil, has grown out of such anxieties. The soil is crying “Stop.”

2.     The over-chemicalization of the atmosphere. There are now serious concerns about the harmful effects on the environment of emissions of certain chemicals, not to even talk about the deterioration of our health due to air and water pollution. A grave danger has been identified as the harm to the ozone layer, the “hole” or “holes” which have been noticed. Our protection from certain dangerous rays from outside the earth may be thinning, raising the prospects of all sorts of illnesses and cancers to animal and human life. There is also the problem of “acid rain” and potentially devastating changes in climate. Our environment is cryng “Stop.”

3.     The over-chemicalization of the human body. There is also some evidence that our bodies are being harmed by the large intake of chemicals as `medicine’, including the problem of “addiction” to the chemicals we take habitually as medicine. Drug addiction via cocaine, mandrax, etc., may simply be the extreme end of a prevailing problem in modern society. No wonder that there are increasing calls for “alternative medicine” in developed societies. The human body is beginning to cry “Stop”.

This is the fundamental critique of modern Western science which is contained within the world-view and practice of African traditional medicine.


About Professor Herbert W. Vilakazi

Professor Herbert Vilakazi was born at Nongoma, KwaZulu/Natal, South Africa. He received his tertiary education at Columbia University, and at the New School For Social Research, both in New York City, USA. He has taught sociology and other social sciences at various tertiary institutions in and around New York City (City College of City University, Essex County College in Newark, Livingstone College, and State University of New York). He has also taught at the University of Transkei (now Walter Sisulu University), University of the Witwatersrand, University of Cape Town, and University of Zululand. He served as Deputy-Chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission from 1998 to 2004. He has also served as Special Advisor to the Premier of KwaZulu/Natal (2005-2007). He is Chairperson of Vilakazi Development Strategies.
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