Philisiwe Zulu was 51 when she received the call from the spirits of her ancestors.
"I didn't believe in traditional medicine or the ancestors, but then I fell sick, my children became ill and my cattle started dying," said the 57-year-old in the small beehive hut where she calls on the spirits to help heal the sick.
"The doctors couldn't cure me, so we went to a traditional healer who said I must train as a healer. I decided to try it. When I went for the training, I was swollen all over. I couldn't walk. Within days I was better."
Zulu is a sangoma in a poor, rural and deeply traditional corner of Mtubatuba in KwaZulu-Natal where more than two-thirds of the people consult healers before attending a modern clinic.
Now the government is trying to regulate the sector and hopes the country's estimated 200000 sangomas can complement Western medicine and help in the battle against HIV-Aids.
Like other sangomas, Zulu is revered and trusted in her community as a healer, counsellor and spiritual guide.
Wrapped in a traditional printed skirt and shawl, she greets her first patient of the day. He is a man in his 30s with a bloodshot eye. He wants to dispel any curses placed upon him.
Zulu selects a pungent herb from her stacks of jars and burns it. She mutters incantations to the ancestors, who many Africans believe watch over the living, like angels or saints.
Zulu tosses a pile of bones and shells on the floor and studies the pattern they form for clues about the patient's ailments. Then she slips on a pair of latex gloves and examines him. The verdict? He must go to a clinic to get his eyes fixed. He should also slaughter a chicken to appease his grandparents, who are feeling unloved, according to the bones.
Zulu is one of 80 traditional healers in the area who have been trained to spot HIV symptoms, refer patients for testing and provide basic care for people with Aids.
The new skills are proving vital in an area where one in three adults is infected with HIV.
"I was afraid of HIV before, but now I can help people. I know how to protect myself and my family," she says as she hands out condoms to a patient. - Reuters