Stories have been told about how people from various parts of the region used to frequent popular late traditional healer Sekuru Ndunge’s homestead in Chipinge for various consultations. It is said that people would come from as far as South Africa, Botswana and Zambia to visit the traditional healer.
The scenario at Sekuru Ndunge’s homestead reflected how people travel long distances to seek spiritual help from traditional healers.
It is a common trend among people who follow African traditional beliefs. For many years on African soil, traditional healers’ homesteads have been known to be busy meeting places.
However, the trends are shifting and evolving technology is bringing in a new phenomenon. The process of consulting traditional leaders has gone online.
The traditional leaders are supplementing their face-to-face consultations with online interactions. Personal sessions are also increasingly being augmented by telephonic and video consultations. Many traditional healers are online and they say a spiritual connection has no boundaries.
In those early days knowing about a certain traditional healer was through recommendations from someone else and this has been replaced by online consultations where people can interact with traditional healers.
Sekuru Simba is one of the local traditional healers who operate using online platforms. He said using technology is possible in his trade because ancestral spirits are not confined to a place.
“It is a remote connection, it’s a spirit connection. The messages that come through are things that I would not have sat down and guessed. It is literally not me channelling those messages, I just pass the message that l would have received concerning that particular person,” said Sekuru Simba.
“I manifest people’s illnesses whether it is online or face to face. I connect with people’s ancestors. We are in an era where people are reconnecting with their cultural and religious beliefs.”
In an interview, founding president of Zimbabwe National Practitioners Association, an affiliate of Traditional Medical Practitioners Council, Friday Chisanyu said online sessions are helpful the most to the people more than to the Sangoma.
“Online consultations help those looking for help to easily locate the appropriate traditional healer for their particular problem. Traditional healers are now creating profiles online and they stipulate what they are good in solving, be it removing bad luck, marriage problems or witchcraft issues.
Chisanyu said digital world has helped the traditional healers to become more efficient.
They now share ideas online through social media groups. For instance, if one of them has a client with a disease known as “gomarara” and does not know how to cure it he can consult the other doctors in the group and they will instruct him on what to do.
“Traditional healers are playing a major role through online sessions and they can reach patients who are as far as Europe. Some end up flying into the country and they benefit the tourism while getting help from the healer,” he said.
Chisanyu indicated that they encourage people to feel welcome to approach the traditional healers through social media but they should also watch out for fake people or online scammers.
“The disadvantage of online meetings is that some are bogus and we have several cases and complaints of people being duped. For example, in this tough economy one is told that he will be given something that will generate money for them, this is impossible and explicit lies.
“As an association, we have come up with measures to help regulate such cases. We have the Traditional Medical Practitioners Council (TMPC) and I am the board chairperson. The council is made up of prophets, traditional healers and herbalists so as to ensure fairness in judging.
“If someone comes to complain of fraud or any other issues against our members we investigate and if the sangoma is found guilty they are forced to de-register from the association,” he said.
However, Chisanyu said the issue of traditional healers working with their patients from a distance is not something which is completely new. Traditional healers used to send a message on how a patient would apply the medicine without necessarily being physically present.
“Consulting the traditional healers online is not something new but it is now upgraded. For example in the past years a client would come and say sekuru my child is sick but he or she is admitted in the hospital. The client will be ordered to go back to where the child is and kneel down facing the north applying medicine to the child and it worked,” he said.
This reveals that consultation was not all about face to face interactions with the patient.
Chisanyu said online consultations have helped in so many ways, but not all problems are suitable for online solutions.
“However there are some issues that the traditional healers cannot attend or solve through telephoning or video consultations, instead the client is required to come in person because they are practical.
“Some of these include kutemera nyora, kuenda kunonyikwa kudziva, or maybe there is something in your body that is causing misfortunes and needs to be plucked off,” he said.
Despite the convenience, the Zimbabwe National Practitioners Association cautions against possible cyber-crimes and advises traditional healers to also connect with their patients face-to-face in the long run.