In a watershed ruling the Supreme Court of
Appeal has ruled that a sick note from a traditional healer be seen in the same
light as one issued by a qualified medical doctor, and that a chef fired for
taking leave to complete her training as a traditional healer be reinstated.
Johanna Mmoledi, 46, was fired from Kievits
Kroon estate in Pretoria in 2007 after taking a month’s leave to finish her
training as a traditional healer. The training included traditional healing
therapy for psychological problems Mmoledi was experiencing at the time.
According to a November 2013 Rapport article by Annetjie de Wet, herself a qualified sangoma,
Mmoledi originally started to experience dizziness, headaches, visions and
dreams – a state known as "ukubiswa" and what’s regarded as a sign of her
calling to become a traditional healer.
She embarked on a traditional healer
training course and for a while her employers allowed her to work half days,
leaving her free to attend courses in the afternoons.
In May 2007 she requested a month’s unpaid
leave to complete her training as a healer, which included attending gruelling
ritualistic ceremonies and regarded as vitally important to complete the
process of becoming a traditional healer.
Her employer refused to give her the time
off, despite Mmoledi presenting them with a doctor’s note from Ms Agnes Masilo
Banda in the name of the North West Kingaka Association and which stated: This
serves to certify that Johannah Mmoledi was seen by me on 13-01-07 and was diagnosed
to have a "PERMINISIONS OF ANCESTERS...”
In effect, considering Mmoledi’s mental
state and the psychological rigours demanded to become a traditional healer,
this note is not dissimilar to anybody else presenting their employer with a western doctor’s note stating that he/she booked them off for psychological
'Hang up her apron'
Kievits Kroon HR disregarded the note and
on 1 June 2007, after completing her shift, Mmoledi had no other choice but to
hang up her apron, leave Kievits Kroon and go on to complete her training.
Kievits Kroon subsequently fired her from
her job and since 2008 the multi-million Rand Dutch businessman-owned estate
has refused three court orders – CCMA, Labour and Labour Appeal – to reinstate
Mmoledi in her job by simply escalating the case to higher courts.
Mmoledi’s argument, which was accepted by
all these courts, was that her mental state was danger of decline should she
interrupt her initiation process at such a critical time.
Now, following a unanimous judgment, Judge
Azhar Cachalia of the Supreme Court of Appeal has ordered Kievits Kroon to
reinstate Johanna Mmoledi.
Traditional vs. western
It is seen not only as a personal triumph
for Johanna, but also as an important milestone for Medical Research Council’s
Indigenous Knowledge System (IKS) which aims to promote, develop and protect
the IKS and its innovative systems of health through education, research and
policies that would be beneficial to all and are in line with the mission and
vision of the MRC.
It also has important implications for the
rights of those South Africans who prefer to consult a traditional healer
rather than western doctor.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) also
encourages the integration of traditional medicine into the health system – especially in
developing countries where traditional health practitioners are more accessible
in rural areas than allopathic (conventional/western) practitioners, and
traditional medicine is sometimes the only affordable source of health care.
Read more about the status of and issues
traditional healers face in South Africa.
Picture: Sangoma from Shutterstock