UCT organizes its first Indaba on African traditional and spiritual practices

by MMC
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Preliminary results from the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Student Wellness Service (SWS) Indigenous Health Survey show that 25% of students sampled are undergoing an Indigenous or African spiritual rite of passage that impacts their experience academic. They and others need appropriate support systems within a UCT holistic health and wellbeing framework that recognizes diverse traditional medicine practices.

The survey results were shared by SWS Director Dr Memory Muturiki at UCT’s first African Traditional and Spiritual Practices Indaba: The Road to Holistic Justice. The Indaba focused directly on the psychospiritual stress felt by students where Indigenous wellbeing systems were not recognized – or integrated into student wellbeing programmes.

SWS is preparing a follow-up qualitative research project that explores student experiences, barriers and facilitators to obtaining Indigenous health services in a university setting. This will provide a better understanding of the needs of stakeholders on the ground, Dr Muturiki said.

Indigenous Indaba
The indaba was opened by Professor Elelwani Ramugondo, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Transformation, Student Affairs and Social Responsiveness.

Conducted by Muturiki, Dr. Christie “Gogo Bazamile” van Zyl and researcher Warren Lucas, the survey provided a baseline indicator of students’ knowledge, awareness and expectations of Indigenous health practices and services at UCT and the standardization of traditional wellness services and medicines. .

International phenomenon

The indaba was initiated by the Department of Student Affairs (DSA) SWS Holistic Health and Wellness Programs for the promotion and awareness of mental health on campus and organized by Dr. Van Zyl, the first counselor in SWS Indigenous Health Care. It took place at the newly renovated All Africa House during the African Traditional Medicine Week of the Health Awareness Calendar, August 26-31.

“Eighty percent of the world’s population uses traditional medicines, so even students who come from Canada, France, Germany, China, New Zealand or Australia and arrive on our shores can use these medications. So it is important to recognize that this is an international phenomenon,” said Dr Fikile Vilakazi, Indaba panel member and director of the Gender Equality Unit at the University of the Western Cape .

“So when we come to UCT, we come as we are; we do not leave ourselves at the door or gate.

“The time has come to revive traditional medicine in the country for millennia. We know that traditional healers around the world have healed our ancestors and that oral medicine recipes have been passed down through generations for centuries.

As DSA Executive Director Pura Mgolombane said in his welcome address, indigenous practices are integral to creating a sense of recognition and belonging at the university.

“If we are in Africa and we are African, we have to know who we are… So when we come to UCT, we come as we are; we do not leave ourselves at the door or gate. We’ve been doing this for too long.

Traditional medicine and practices

Traditional medicine, as defined by the World Health Organization, is “the sum total of knowledge, skills and practices based on theories, beliefs and experiences specific to different cultures, whether explicable or no, used to maintain health as well as in the prevention, diagnosis, amelioration or treatment of physical and mental illnesses.

At UCT, the role of traditional medicine in student wellbeing supports Vision 2030 and its pillars of transformation and sustainability, Van Zyl said. This work was also supported by the Student Mental Health Policywhich was launched in 2018. It recognizes the diversity of cultures and belief systems that illuminate the meaning of mental health issues and ensures appropriate approaches.

“This is an important part of building and supporting the diverse community that works and studies here.” With this gathering, we aspire to foster a dynamic and intellectually stimulating platform where esteemed thought leaders, academics and practitioners can converge (and exchange) ideas and experiences,” she added.

Understanding African spirituality

According to Muturiki, those seeking the indigenous health services provided by Van Zyl at SWS have several main needs.

These include counseling, help with psychospiritual stress, academic concessions, and leave concessions (for those undergoing spiritual rites of passage, or ukuthwasaand other customary rites and rituals) and advice on the safe practice of cultural rites such as burning imphepho, a plant widely used as ritual incense. The team also participates in study readiness assessments once students have completed indigenous spiritual and customary rites, rituals or treatments.

Dr Yvette Abrahams, Director of the San and Khoi Unit at the Center for African Studies, performs a ritual ceremony with burning imphephos
Dr Yvette Abrahams, director of the San and Khoi Unit at the Center for African Studies, conducts a ritual ceremony with burning imphephos.

Ukuthwasa, in particular, was honored at the Indaba. Often, students have difficulty managing or coping with psychospiritual stressors brought on by customary and indigenous spiritual calls, rites, and rituals. And this affects their mental health, especially on campuses where these practices are not understood.

As Professor Elelwani Ramugondo, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Transformation, Student Affairs and Social Responsiveness, said in his introduction: ukuthwasa often constitutes a burden for students, a “situation riddled with intergenerational disparities.”

“Most young people now struggle to decide how to handle their callings because their families no longer believe in indigenous welfare systems rooted in ancestral reverence.

The support students need involves an Indigenous practitioner who can provide appropriate counselling, psychospiritual therapy, spiritual consultations, traditional medicines and access to a register of gobelas (spiritual healers or initiators) on campus who can provide knowledgeable and insightful assistance.

Professor Ramugondo said the UCT Student Mental Health Policy sets out UCT’s commitment to implementing a holistic approach to transforming student wellbeing. It is consistent with current best practice recommendations for student mental health policy while also being tailored to the specific needs of students in the South African context.

“We are also looking at what other institutions are doing, learning from other institutions and best practices in Africa,” Ramugondo said. “We aim to ensure that everyone on campus, especially staff who meet students in the classroom, in residence halls and in service departments, knows what resources we have in place and what strategies and approaches inform what we do when students face mental problems. health problems.”

She added: “But ultimately, at the heart of the transformational framework is a humanizing praxis. We work to humanize the human in each other. If we have not had the privilege of being seen in our wholeness, that means working to insist that we are seen and that we are not complete without our spiritual core.

Understanding and research

Beyond politics, an institutional awareness process is also considered vital. More than 81% of students surveyed said UCT should organize workshops to enable students to understand African spirituality.

One respondent said: “These alternative health services will be more accepted, without shame (and guilt). »

To measure the broader need, a comment from the SWS survey summarizes it succinctly. “My advice is to stop limiting the service to only those undergoing spiritual rites of passage (ukuthwasa). As an African, I could argue that everything between birth and death is a rite of passage and that I do not need to be sangoma or “gifted” to access indigenous welfare services like I do when I’m at home.

Finally, in his speech, Vilakazi also called on UCT, as Africa’s leading university, to conduct more research into related facets of traditional medicines in areas such as ethnobotany and medical anthropology.

“(We need to) incorporate and integrate indigenous scientific theories into this work to understand how we interpret plants…It’s about integrating them into the core business of the university.”

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