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Traditional Healer Certificates – Valid Or Invalid?

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According to section 23 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act 75 of 1997 “a medical certificate must be issued and signed by a medical practitioner or any other person who is certified to diagnose and treat patients and who is registered with a professional council established by an Act of Parliament.”

The issue of traditional healer certificates has been a topic of much contentious debate regarding whether or not an employer should accept the certificate as being valid. Some clarity on the matter was determined by the below case;

“In Kiviets Kroon Country Estate (Pty) Ltd v Mmoledi & others [LAC] JA78/10), where an employee was dismissed because she stayed away from work, among others, because she had a medical certificate from a traditional healer saying that she had ‘premonitions of ancestors’, the CCMA and the Labour Court declared that the employee’s dismissal was unjustified, as she had a justifiable reason for her unauthorised absence. When the case was taken on appeal, the Labour Appeal Court stated, among others, that as the Constitution recognises traditional beliefs and practices, others should reasonably accommodate others’ beliefs and not trivialise them.

It is important to note that in the above case the employee did not undergo ‘medical treatment’ and it was more a case of cultural, traditional belief or ancestral consultation. The employee’s case was based on her cultural and/or traditional beliefs that she was in consultation with a Traditional Healer to assist her to undergo some sessions that would qualify her to be a Sangoma as she had a calling from her ancestors.

With the Kiviets Kroon case providing clarity on cultural, traditional or ancestral matters the status quo (unless the employer had previously accepted such documentation) of refusing to accept / deeming invalid a traditional healers certificate pertaining to granting paid sick leave or to justify absence from work continued up until 30 April 2014.

The 30th of April 2014 was determined, by the President, as the date on which Sections 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 16, 17, 18 to 28, 29 to 41, 42 to 46, 49 and 51 of the Traditional Health Practitioners Act came into operation:

  • This effectively establishes the Interim Traditional Health Practitioners Council of South Africa.
  • The Council is bestowed with all the powers in respect of disciplinary inquiries and investigations defined in the Act.
  • In terms of the transitional provisions, practitioners currently engaging in traditional health practice have until 1st of May 2015 to register with the Council.
  • The Proclamation therefore allows traditional health practitioners’ medical certificates to become proof of incapacity in terms of Section 23(2) of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act of 1997. After registration with the Traditional Health Practitioners Council of South Africa, the traditional healer conforms to the requirements for payment of sick leave as “any other person who is certified to diagnose and treat patients and who is registered with a professional Council established by an Act of Parliament.”

Therefore, registered traditional healers are legally recognized in South Africa as "traditional health practitioners", under the Traditional Health Practitioners Act of 2007 (Act. 22 of 2007) whereby medical certificates issued by such individuals pertaining to the granting of paid sick leave or to justify absence from work must be deemed valid.