The dynamics of herbal medicine are complex within the Western Cape and are typically sectored into different groupings based upon cultural background.
In contemporary Western Cape culture, particularly in urban Cape Town, a hybridization of cultures and healers has led to the development of neo–traditional healers, Rastafari bush doctors.
This group draws from the practices and herbal treatments used by other cultures including:
herbalists called inyanga (Zulu) and amaxwhele (Xhosa); spiritual diviners, who communicate largely with ancestral spirits, called izangoma (Zulu) and amagqirha (Xhosa); faith healers called umthandazi (Xhosa), Christians who heal through prayer; and traditional birth attendants.
In the Western Cape, bossiedokters (in English, bush doctors), healers with knowledge of bush herbs, are recognized as the oldest healers in this area.
Rastafarian herbalists acknowledge their KhoiSan history as the basis for their botanical medical knowledge.
There is evidence that medicinal plant knowledge was shared between KhoiSan and Xhosa cultures from the 16th century onwards; where KhoiSan peoples used highly advanced nomenclature, distinguishing between species and sub–species levels, while Xhosa folk taxonomy discriminates typically to the family or genus level and include flora from a wider geographical range.
Investigations reveal that the growing subculture of Rastafarians promotes and trades medicinal species
in most towns, city centers, and rural areas in the Western Cape.
Rastafari, a socio–political religion, has been a growing phenomenon in South Africa since its introduction in the 1970s. Its tenets promote racial equality, ecological sustainability and, for those in the Western Cape, availability of traditional medicines.
The most visible leaders of this group are their healers who have adopted the Afrikaans name:
Contemporary Rasta bush doctors state that their mission is to reintroduce KhoiSan healing traditions to the disadvantaged people living in townships, housing settlements for people of color that were provided by the Apartheid government.
Bush doctors are an important element to revitalizing a culture of healing and preserving indigenous knowledge specifically for urbanized Coloured communities, a mixed race group descendant from KhoiSan people and other cultures.
The Informal Trade of Medicinal Plants by Rastafari Bush Doctors in the Western Cape of South Africa
LISA E. ASTON PHILANDER, NOKWANDA P. MAKUNGA, AND KAREN J. ESLER
Economic Botany, 2014.