Durban - ‘This cannot be allowed to continue. It must stop. Now!” So said two leading traditional healers of the recent slaughter of 37 white-backed vultures for supposed “muti” purposes in KwaZulu-Natal’s Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park.
They were joined in their call for an urgent formal register of all “genuine” traditional healers (izinyanga) in KZN by Dr Bandile Mkhize, CEO of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.
He and Sazi Mhlongo, head of the National Association of Traditional Healers, and Timothy Ngubane, chairman of KZN’s Traditional Health Practitioners, said such a database would help control and formalise the muti industry.
“As it stands now many collectors and harvesters of muti are just raping our natural heritage,” said Ngubane, who is also the chairman of the umKhanyakude Izinyanga.
“It’s a money-making racket where people are posing as izinyanga while making a quick buck.
“It’s a frightening scenario because there appears to be no control over their activities.”
He also warned people about the danger of ingesting poisoned vulture parts because some of the chemicals were lethal.
Ngubane said he did not want to place all the blame on bone fide healers for what he called the “continuing decimation of wildlife and indigenous trees and plants in KZN by false prophets”.
“No, what we have here are other scavengers who are selling traditional Zulu customs down the drain.
“They are false prophets who often bypass the real izinyanga and sell their wares at major muti markets, such as the Mona and Warwick Avenue outlets. It has to stop.”
The continued poisoning of vultures, the joint statement said, was “incredibly short-sighted, ill-informed and destructive”, and warned that vultures could become extinct in five years.
Mhlongo, also a member of Ezemvelo’s board, said “considerable falsehoods” were attached to the properties that wildlife parts played in traditional muti.
“Because vultures have exceptional eyesight and are highly efficient in finding carrion, people are told that by eating their heads and hearts they will become cleverer and these parts are subsequently used to help people pass exams, for example. This is crazy.
“They are destroying our natural heritage and threatening the balance of nature.”
He urged people to appreciate that if traditional medicine in the form of wildlife parts continued to be exploited at the rate it was, the traditional healers and these “bogus healers” would be responsible for the collapse in numbers – and likely extinction – of various species, such as vultures: “This is not only destructive of God’s creatures but importantly will have a big impact on our tourism industry and the jobs created around it.”
He agreed with Ngubane that a registered database of traditional healers must be compiled.
Mkhize said of the extinction threat: “This is dreadful. Do you think we at Ezemvelo have gone to all this trouble to help people understand the value of our rhinos only to have izinyanga decimate another species in the form of our vultures?
“Our people must understand what an impact this poisoning is having on this species – and how this will affect our tourism industry, too.”
Apart from the important role vultures play in scavenging and controlling the spread of disease, Mkhize said South Africa’s tourism market comprised many bird watchers.
“If we continue to behave in this way, I can assure you it will impact on the numbers of people visiting our parks. And you know what that means.”
Mkhize said Ezemvelo had helped establish an indigenous nursery in Maputaland to stop the destruction of indigenous trees and plants for muti products.
“We started this some three years back to centralise and formalise the collection of such things as bark, roots and the like to provide on a sustainable basis the products that izinyanga will need in this region.
“I am hoping to expand this scheme throughout the province when funds become available,” he said.