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4 w Competition, Race, and Professionalization African Healers and White Medical Practitioners, 1891–1948 in april 1938, a Natal magistrate charged renowned African inyanga Bramwell Sikakane with twenty-one counts of practicing as a “native medicine man” or herbalist without a license. Although Mr. Sikakane had been found a competent inyanga by the Natal Native Medical Association in 1936, his application for a government license to practice as an herbalist had been repeatedly refused under the South African Medical, Dental and Pharmacy Act of 1928. During his trial, witnesses testified not only to Mr. Sikakane’s extraordinary abilities to heal, but to the fact that he did what other African medical men in the district allegedly were unable to do: he diagnosed illnesses—often with the aid of a stethoscope and thermometer. Coming to testify in his defense, the executive committee of the Natal Native Medical Association arrived at court in “two 1938 model sedans—one a Lincoln Zephyr—and dressed in fashionably tailored European suits.”1 They came not only to lend support to one of their members, but to use this trial as a showcase to demonstrate against government interference in what they termed “native medical rights.”2 The African healers described in this Sunday Times article deviated sharply from what the architects of the 1891 Natal Native Code had envisioned when they first licensed healers. Indeed by the 1930s the relationship between healers , government administrators and biomedical doctors had changed dramatically from the late nineteenth century. This was due in part to the creation in 1910 of South Africa as a larger union that combined the former British colonies of the Cape and Natal with the Boer territories of the Transvaal and Orange Free State, a union which then gained independence from Britain in 1910. The accompanying move from British colonialism to local white rule, 128 You are reading copyrighted material published by Ohio University Press/Swallow Press. Unauthorized posting, copying, or distributing of this work except as permitted under U.S. copyright law is illegal and injures the author and publisher. followed by the professionalization of biomedicine, led local administrators to have less sympathy and say with regard to African inyangas. In this chapter, I investigate the development of competition between African and white medical practitioners and the role competition played in constructing local biomedical and African ideas of medical authority in Natal during the early twentieth century. I begin by describing some of the effects that licensing had on isangomas in the late-nineteenth century that enabled inyangas in Natal and Zululand to increase their status over other types of African healers in South Africa. Second, I examine the effects of urbanization and the unique government licensing of African healers on the commercial and professional development of African inyangas in this province. Third, I show how developments in African therapeutics threatened the commercial and ideological basis of white biomedicine. Fourth, I argue that this competition was vital to the development of local biomedical practices and African ideas of medical authority and contributed to the professionalization of both types of medical practitioners. Competition, racism, and the exclusion of Africans from biomedicine threatened African healers who nevertheless thrived by exploiting tensions that existed within the colonial administration. Fifth, I show how elements of gender, race, and class were employed in the construction of medical authority. Last, I illustrate that the process by which biomedicine became dominant in South Africa was not inevitable but was the result of intervention by South African physicians and pharmacists who worked to create and promote a unique form of medical authority that rested as much on racial difference as it did on rationality and science. the effects of licensing inyangas and urbanization As a result of the 1891 Natal Native Code, healers’ roles and status drastically changed during the twentieth century. Whereas different types of healers had previously collaborated to maintain African health, new colonial laws forced inyangas to operate alone. The distinction between herbalists and African healers who used “supernatural” forces—isangomas and rain-doctors—enabled colonial officials to split the African healing community. Healers hoping to acquire government licenses and avoid legal prosecution began to adopt these terms and redefine themselves in relation to other types of healers. The term isanuse, which had been used interchangeably with the word isangoma, or inyanga yokubula, during the nineteenth century,3 fell out of common use in favor of the term isangoma in the twentieth century. This indicated an important shift in the...


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