Seventeen year old, Samukeliso Sithole is one of Zimbabwe's rising athletic stars. During last years Southern regional Championships in Botswana, she won several tittles for her home country. However, this year she finds herself in court trying to keep her medals. Why? Because Samukeliso Sithole may be a man. Sithole is not the first athlete to have a question mark next to gender. Stella Walsh, a 100 meter champ, was exposed to be a man after death, and Richard Raskins, a pro tennis player, returned to play as Renee Richards, and is now a consultant to Martina Navratilova (Scottish Herald). However what makes Sithole's case different is why her gender is confusing. She claims to be a hermaphrodite, who had a witch doctor make her male organs disappear. When Sithole failed to pay the witch doctors fee, the doctor made it re-grow (Gillon) Witch doctors, or tribal healers are very common in Zimbabwe and the rest of southern Africa. Some believe that they help the society by giving a feeling of much needed hope. Others believe the awful stories about there false claims of health. Whichever side is right one thing is for sure. Tribal healing has evolved as an only option for the poor during Zimbabwe's long and troubled past
Up until a little while ago Zimbabwe hospitals were considered the best. However in recent years they have deteriorated rapidly. They have been plagued with drug shortness, and doctors strikes. At some points the drug supply is so low that the doctors only accept life threatening cases. "Most of the drugs have to be imported...Even those that can be found locally are so expensive that we cannot afford to buy stocks that can fill up the pharmacies of the major hospitals," a medical official from the city of Harare said during a major drug shortage in 2003 (Agence France-Presse). Even the equipment is not up to par. Doctors complain of watching patients bleed to death just out of lack of supply. That same year, a huge strike took over Harare, and even more patience were being turned away. Strikes in hospitals are usually caused by the poor working conditions and low salaries. Most junior doctors in Zimbabwe are paid about 15,000 Zimbabwean dollars, or 400 American dollars (Anold-Msipa). Monica Ngwere, an asthmatic citizen who was hurt by the strike said: "They said I should come back after the strike. But nobody told me when that would be," during an interview while being sent away (BBC News) Those who cannot get professional medical attention do have another option. They can see a witch doctor. Witch doctors usually have no form of training and prescribe non-traditional medication and activities to improve health. In Africa, where a significant portion of the population is extremely poor, witch doctors are the only option. Most patients visit witch doctors out of sheer desperation (WWRN).
The lack of doctors in Zimbabwe is also a huge problem. According to the UN development programme's human development report 2004 the United States has approximately 279 doctors per 100,000 people. The Philippines has about 115 and China has about 164. Both of those countries are considered poor by national standards. Some of Zimbabwe's neighbors, like South Africa, Botswana and Namibia have an average of 27 doctors per 100,000. Zimbabwe has about 6 doctors per 100,000 citizens. The country is even the worst in the area. Mozambique has about 2 doctors per 100,000 (Human Development Report 2003). Another horrifying fact revolves around the health expenditure per capita. This number is based on how much can actually be purchased with the money in the certain country and measured in. The USA has a PPP of about 4,887. The Philippines has a PPP of about 169 and China has one of about 224. Botswana and Namibia are both in the 300's. Zimbabwe a PPP of about 142. Mozambique has a PPP of about 47 (Human Development Report 2003).
Zimbabwe's war driven history and deprived citizens have led to the myriad of witch doctors in the country. It started in the early days, when Zimbabwe was first colonized. The original non-Africans to enter Zimbabwe were Muslim traders but soon British colonizers followed (Sheehan, 26) Zimbabwe was originally called Rhodesia after Englishman Cecil Rhodes. Cecil Rhodes was convinced that he was bringing the greatest civilization on earth to the local people. His goal was to expand the British Empire to its ultimate limit (Sheehan 26) As the country started to evolve, European medicine also migrated. However, it was only open to the white population. The rest of the country continued to use traditional medication that was local and easier to get. Until the 1920's, Rhode's British South Africa Company ran Rhodesia (Sheehan 28) In 1923, Rhodesia became South Rhodesia (northern Rhodesia is now Zambia) and citizens were granted the right to vote. However, the right to vote was based on British citizenship (Sheehan 29).
After World War Two the white population in Rhodesia flourished, making liberation difficult. In the 1950's Black Nationalism started to rise. In the years to follow many organisms would form such as the African National Congress and the Zimbabwe African People's Union (Sheehan 29). Meanwhile, as the rest of Africa seemed to be heading towards self-rule, the white population of Rhodesia struggled to keep control. Despite many attempts to stop independence, in 1979 the nationalist and the white government sat down to meet (Sheehan 30). A new election was held and Abel Muzorewa, the leader of the United Africa National congress, became the new prime minister of Zimbabwe and is now the president (Sheehan 31)..During this time, more Black citizens where given access to better hospitals. However most of these black citizens where significantly richer than the rest of the population, who still relied on witch doctors.
One of the biggest consequences of the white rule is how the country has been left with huge economic problems. Zimbabwe is full of natural resources such as rich minerals. However, the citizens have seen little of the profits. Involvement in various wars has drained the country of its natural wealth. As Zimbabwe's economy crumbles millions of citizens have gone hungry. More than 25% of the countries population lives below the poverty land (Zimbabwe Information). Most of the population are farmers. Most of the countries money comes from agriculture (Sheehan 39) Zimbabwe is blessed with a supple environment good for growing a number of crops. Wheat, barley and oats are all highly commercial crops grown, however the most profitable crop grown in Zimbabwe is tobacco. Over half a million people work on the Tobacco fields (Sheehan 41). The mining industry also plays an important factor. Copper, silver, iron, coal, nickel and cobalt are just some of the many items mined (Sheehan 43). Most of Zimbabwe's industry are compacted into two main cities, Harare and Bulawayo, which both have railroad connections. Mining is the oldest type of industry in Zimbabwe (Sheehan 43). It was gold found that first attracted the Arab, British and Portuguese to the country. Textiles, like wood and furniture, are made. Tourism at places like game parks and Victoria Falls also bring money to the country (Zimbabwe Information). Despite the vast opportunity for jobs, one and a half million people out of 11 million people are unemployed (Sheehan 47). Those who are unemployed have no opportunities to visit hospitals. Also, most of these jobs are in career paths with very little opportunity to make money.
The presences of witch doctors in Zimbabwe have caused much pain and confusion in the country. First off, there is a big difference between witches and witch doctors. Witches have been blamed for many mischievous acts and unpleasant deeds (Sheehan 78). They have a reputation for killing people and then turning them into various animals. Witches are also thought to rob gravesites and ride on the back of hyenas. Sometimes traditional healers blame an illness on the presence of a witch (Sheehan 78). In tribes, witches are thought to be evil and hated, while witch doctors are often respected by the needy.
The majority of Native Zimbabweans belong to the Shona tribe. In this tribe, tribal healers are apart of every day life. One important event they are always present for, are when spirit mediums are located. When a dead ancestor wants to contact a live relative they do so by possessing a person and using them as a medium. The person infected often becomes sick (Sheehan 76). When a spirit medium is located there is a large ceremony held to welcome and receive the message. Some spirits are vengeful. These include spirits of the neglected, the murdered and the unappreciated. Others, just one last contact with family members. Tribal Healers are an essential part of the ceremony. If the person is possessed by a medium the person will start to dance uncontrollably to the rhythm of the music being played (Sheehan 76). Members of the Shona tribe rely heavily on the witch doctors for more than medicinal needs, but as respected elders in the tribe.
The largest concern about witch doctors is how they affect Africa's AIDS epidemic. About 600,000 or 5% of the population of Zimbabwe are HIV-positive (Sheehan 70). 24.6% of people between the ages of 15 and 49 are infected (Human Development Report 2003). Zimbabwe is one of the five countries in Southern Africa most affected by aids. The other four countries are South Africa, Swaziland, Botswana and Namibia (Hanson). AIDS is the largest killer of children under five (Selva). Most of whom are born to positive mothers. One of the biggest spreaders of the HIV virus is ignorance. In areas where the only option is to visit a witch doctor, the education level is low. The people don't know what they have and how to prevent ( Selva). The doctors also don't realize the continuing to have intercourse with others will pass on the disease. Most witch doctors profit greatly from the epidemic, raking in hundreds from desperate citizens (Selva). Others, such as those in Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association say that they are preventing Aids using a cultural aspect (ZNTHA). Aids has caused the life expectancy to drop dramatically. One newspaper in Bulawayo claims it has reached 33 years, down from 63 in 1988 (Selva). Stephen Lewis, the UN's envoy on AIDS and HIV in the region said it was "peaking at about 2,500 per week," (Hanson).
Often when witch doctors are called upon for reasons other than health, bad things happen. In one case, a couple from a small squatters community paid four witch doctors 1000 Zimbabwean dollars to find their kidnapped son. Maria Louis and Paulus Fernando's son, baby Jose, was stolen from a street market. None of the witch doctors hired did anything; one even ran away without looking. The couple plans to go to another witch doctor, this time in Zambia, for help (Amupadhi). Another case of witch doctors crossing the boundaries was in 1992, when a group of witch doctors from the ivory coast claimed to have caused the victory of a soccer match. In 2002 the Ivorian government settled the dispute by giving the witch doctors a bottle of beer and 2000 US dollars (BBC News).
Traditional healers have played an important part in Zimbabwe's often-painful history. The situation really depends on who you sympathize with, the people who say they harm more then they help, or the people who rely on it as a source of hope. No matter who you side with it plays into the bigger more important issue of poverty in Zimbabwe and other African countries. Today, society stands at a crossroad. Should the rich be able to take advantage of the resourceful land? Or should the resources be spread around to those who need and work for it. The world as a whole needs to deal with the issue of where does money belongs. While most of the population is compacted in to the main cities. Squatters villages also cover the surroundings. Compared to most other countries in Africa, Zimbabwe is far from the most desperate, but there is always room for improvement.