Bridging the gap between science and traditional healing/ knowledge

As the fight against the water crisis continues across the country, the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), in collaboration with the Department of Water Sanitation (DWS) and Nature Speaks and Responds NPC (NSR), hosted a two-day workshop from the 19th  to 20th of March 2024, at the National Zoological Garden in Pretoria. This transformative workshop aimed at empowering Traditional Health Practitioners (THP’s) and community members in monitoring and preserving aquatic ecosystems. The workshop was officially opened with a traditional prayer (Ukuphahla) and an introduction to Citizen Science, emphasizing its inclusive nature and the valuable insights traditional healers can offer.

Opening for the workshop also included introductions and check-in for the participants, followed by the purpose of the workshop by the programme director, Ms Dan’sile Cindi, in her capacity as the SANBI’s Acting Director: Biodiversity Mainstreaming. Several presentations were given at the workshop in preparation for the demonstrations of the various Citizen Science tools.

Namhla Mbona, SANBI’s Freshwater Biodiversity Planner, kickstarted with her presentation on What is Citizen Science, who can participate, and how to contribute towards data collection by citizens. She then highlighted that individuals of all ages and educational backgrounds can contribute significantly to safeguarding our aquatic ecosystem. She stressed the importance of traditional health practitioners’ unique perspectives and experiences.

Workshops like these are meant to bridge the gap between science and traditional healing,” said Gogo Nomsa Sibeko, the CEO of Nature Speaks. Gogo Sibeko elaborated on the relevance of Citizen Science to traditional health practitioners and their practices. She also emphasized that THPs had a duty to keep the state of our rivers clean and not to be contributors to the pollution.

The first day of the workshop included hands-on training at Apies River stretch which is within SANBI’s National Zoological Garden, where participants learned to use Citizen Science tools for monitoring aquatic ecosystems. DWS Citizen Science (Adopt-a-River) National Monitoring Programme Coordinator Ms Noloyiso Mbiza, encouraged citizens to adopt and protect rivers in their communities, advocating for participation in clean-up activities.

On the second day, attendees received a presentation and training on water testing toolkit, with contributions from WaterCAN’s Dr. Ferrial Adam and Ms Nomsa Daele. They highlighted the empowerment aspect of Citizen Science and its respect for Indigenous Knowledge.

Lucy Ngubeni, SANBI’s Biodiversity Mainstreaming Officer, introduced participants to iNaturalist App for data collection, emphasizing the importance of detailed, high-quality images for accurate identification.

The participants were capacitated in utilising tools such as MiniSASS, Velocity Plank, Clarity Tube, Riparian Health Audit, iNaturalist, and chemical and microbial water testing kits.

“The workshop changed my life completely; I have been longing for this for such a long time. I learned that we should keep our rivers exceptionally clean for our future generation, for them to have access to clean water,” commented Gogo Zanele Gwebu one of the Traditional healers who attended the workshop.

Workshops can provide structured learning environments because they offer firsthand support and interactive guidance to assist participants in overcoming challenges.

The need to roll out this kind of awareness workshop was one of the requests from the participants and most of the Traditional Healers said they were ready to host such in their local municipalities, as they visit their offices (rivers) on a daily basis.

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