Tshwane healer makes list of ’science Oscars’
Pretoria - The last thing Dr Ephraim Mabena expected while clearing rubble from a dumpsite in 2001 to transform it into a botanical garden was to be acknowledged by the National Science and Technology Forum.
Mabena has now made it on to the list of what is regarded as the “Science Oscars”. The award recognises, celebrates and rewards the outstanding contributions of individuals, teams and organisations to science, engineering and technology in the country.
Previously, the awards were made at a glittering gala dinner. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2020 event will be online tomorrow.
Mabena is on the list along with experienced scientists, engineers, innovators, science communicators, engineering capacity builders, organisational managers and leaders, as well as data and research managers.
He is the only traditional healer among various professors in his category. He is the founder of Mothong African Heritage Trust.
“For me, it is important to know that what you do makes a difference.
“I would like to thank the organisation for the recognition of my contribution.” The botanical park is situated above Section H and is part of the Magaliesberg. It forms part of the Magaliesberg biosphere, which has been recognised by the Unesco.
This once smelly dump, where murderers dumped bodies, is now the pride of Mamelodi.
“I am overwhelmed by the acknowledgement. I still can’t believe it. To think that when I started it I found a dead body there now it has turned into a place of learning for indigenous knowledge systems,” said Mabena, a traditional doctor and a former Umkhonto we Sizwe operative.
He works with his wife Mabel - also a traditional doctor. He said the award would go far in giving the people of Mamelodi a sense of pride.
“But not only that the goal is to uplift the community by protecting our indigenous knowledge that will last for generations,” he said.
Mabena’s goal is to use indigenous knowledge systems and modern sciences to change socio-economic development. He said traditional medicine was taking its “space in the modern world”, and slowly being seen as an integral part of society. “Inyangas were once regarded as demonic, while we are actually caretakers of flora and fauna. This land is an indigenous botanical garden that God gave to us. We must preserve it,” he said.
The site features a large garden, where indigenous medicinal plants are being preserved, and it has a bird sanctuary. It also has a large open garden for cultural events and traditional ceremonies. In addition to that, they are producing skin and medicinal products that use wild plants and herbs in the area.
Schools sometimes take pupils there to learn about the plants and animals on the mountain and the significance of conservation. They have had international and local students and tourists visiting to see the place.
Mabena said he hopes the gardens will one day be used for programmes to help township youths who are addicted to nyaope, which is wreaking havoc in the community.
He said indigenous knowledge can work hand in hand in the modern pharmaceutical space to find a cure or vaccine for Covid-19.
“Slowly, but surely, people are gravitating back towards indigenous knowledge and plants. They want the core of medicine and that is what we provide here.”
He said that in South Africa traditional medicines were important to a larger population; it is estimated that more than 65% of the country’s population are reliant on herbal, complementary and alternative medicines.
He said the once taboo Artemisiaafra(African wormwood), known as umhlonyane or lengana, was commonly used by traditional healers and this was an example of people gravitating towards traditional medicine.
“I hear a lot of people talking about it during the coronavirus pandemic. This was used long ago to treat a wide range of ailments, from menstrual cramps and gastro-intestinal disorders to respiratory symptoms and asthma.”
Mothong is in partnership with Unisa, the University of Pretoria, the Tshwane University of Technology, the CSIR and the Department of Science and Technology.
The garden has won awards for best field care, best rehabilitation project, best community natural resources management, Kudu Award (community contribution group) and another from the Department of Health.