Student aims to heal mental illness the African way

Sinethemba Makanya aims to decolonise minds. / DARRYL HAMMOND
Sinethemba Makanya aims to decolonise minds. / DARRYL HAMMOND

A university student in Johannesburg is tapping into Africa's rich reserves of traditional healing methods to help tackle mental illness.

Sinethemba Makanya, 31, a Wits University student who is currently going through the initiation process of becoming a sangoma, has focused her PhD studies in the psychology of mental health.

Makanya - who is passionate about embracing African culture - is conducting research to show that Western medicine is not the only solution.

"Psychology was used by the apartheid regime to oppress us. Now this is a way to try and use it our way, for healing purposes.

"Our generation may have not experienced apartheid physically, but the trauma is in our blood and DNA," she said.

Makanya, a winner of the Wits leg of the 2018 FameLab International Science competition, has titled her doctoral thesis Ukugula Kwabantu: A study of Traditional Healers' constructions of Mental Health.

"My question is how psychologists and traditional healers can collaborate to heal patients," she said.

Makanya has been studying the spiritual element of healing people who have emotional trauma, depression and other mental health problems.

"I was not satisfied with the literature in psychology and drama therapy.

"It is very Eurocentric and does not deal with the issues black people face.

"We must start looking at health using an African theory," she said.

She is also looking at the stigma suffered by people who have mental health conditions.

"Traditional healing is a dynamic process. It is ever moving and there are different ways in which South Africans can use it.

"For example, young people who are decolonialists and are at the forefront of getting our land back are doing the work of the ancestors," she said.

Makanya's future goals include building a centre where doctors, sociologists and traditional healers can collaborate.

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