Traditional healer creates skin products

Ephraim Mabena is a traditional healer from Mamelodi who showcased his products at the science and technology conference held in Pretoria by the department of science and technology.
Ephraim Mabena is a traditional healer from Mamelodi who showcased his products at the science and technology conference held in Pretoria by the department of science and technology.
Image: TSEPISO RAMOSELA

Traditional healer Ephraim Mabena has been able to use his knowledge of indigenous medicine in collaboration with science to create products that could soon be commercialised.

“Having our knowledge written down and archived is an acknowledgement of our medicine and our traditions,” he said.

Mabena was speaking at the 2018 Indigenous Knowledge Systems International Conference in Pretoria yesterday. The conference focused on creating avenues to protect indigenous knowledge holders from economic exploitation and to promote the Indigenous Knowledge Systems Bill recently passed by parliament and awaiting President Cyril Ramaphosa’s signature.

“Many elders that have this knowledge are still poor today because they were never recognised for their knowledge,” Mabena said. Africans, he added, have historically had their knowledge stolen from them by Western scientists.

“They would steal from our ancestors and bring it back written in scientific terms as if it is their own work. In South Africa we have never confronted the cases of indigenous knowledge that was stolen from its people,” he said.

Mabena, together with the department of science and technology, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and multiple universities, has used his knowledge on traditional medicine to make a line of skin products.

“In a collaboration with science, we have made products to look after the skin. I have products made for sun protection and for acne. Working with scientists, we were able to make these products more effective,” he said.

Mabena has made items such as face creams, body lotions, face washes and skin toners. He said treating the skin was an important way of getting people to absorb medicine and its effects. The biggest obstacle that had prevented healers from being able to plant medicinal herbs on a mass scale was a lack of access to land.

“It took me 17 years to be able to have access to municipal land that was a dumping ground,” he said.

Other delegates at the conference, included scientists from the University of the Free State who have been working with communities in their area and in the Eastern Cape to make nutritional supplements including tea and coffee.

Science and technology minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said the indigenous knowledge bill will positively impact on the socioeconomic standing of rural communities.

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