Queen Ntuli (1959-2006)

Key to the success of this project is the interviewing of sangomas and inyangas, traditional healers, in the village of Vukuzenzele. OCCE is responsible for bridging the gap of communication and opening those lines so accurate information about wide spread disease and its prevention are disseminated. Through open discussions and interviews of the respected community leaders and traditional healers, this gap of language and culture regarding AIDS/HIV and TB is breached with accurate knowledge and understanding. Though, it must be done in accordance with the specific culture and through the appropriate channels.

In Vukuzanzeke, everything goes through a sangomas. These people hold an important role in the well being of their community. One such woman who remains an inspiration to the OCCE is Queen Ntuli, who has been practising traditional healing from her home in Folweni. In speaking with her she explained that it was an issue of familiarity with the community. "People come to us because they trust us," says the petite healer. "We live with them and we've been given power by the ancestors. We also don't just focus on the disease, we go beyond the sickness."Despite high levels of awareness surrounding AIDS related vaccines (ARVs), "people who are on ARVs still come to me [for treatment] ... they are scared about taking it forever and are always looking for an easier way," said Ntuli, who is a member of the KwaZulu-Natal Traditional Healers Council, and also works with UKZN's medical school instructing western-trained medical students on herbal medicine.

But a problem was that traditional healers themselves often did not understand how HIV worked. Some genuinely believe they could get rid of the virus, while others deliberately misled people into believing that they could cure HIV/AIDS. Ntuli explained that many traditional healers did not realise that their medication was just treating the symptoms and not the virus.Zeblon Gwala, who makes ubhejane, an herbal remedy, and runs the Nebza AIDS clinic, is not a traditional healer, but told PlusNews that his grandfather appeared to him in dreams and gave him the recipe. He said its recent popularity has meant he has been staying up till late brewing the medication, grinding the ingredients by hand, and trying to get more plastic bottles to distribute. The 89 different herbs found in ubhejane are sourced, he said, from as far a field as the Democratic Republic of Congo. Gwala is adamant that he has never claimed he can cure AIDS, and since there have been no trials looking at whether people on ARVs can also safely take ubhejane, he strongly advises his clients against mixing the two.

Mr. Gwala and Ms. Ntuli spoke of their divinational healing powers. As per the history of traditional healers, when a member of the family who is a traditional healer passes on, then the gift is passed on to another member of the same family. Traditional healing is seen as a sacred profession with rules to ensure that the healer is clean and spiritual. The medicines prescribed in traditional healing vary; some have long shelf life and some are fresh depending on the diagnosed illness. Sometimes it is necessary to use the bones of animals. Traditional healers do not only treat a single person, they have access to the whole family. There is always communication from the traditional healers and they are very approachable.