Possible interventions to curb drownings during river cleansing rituals

Joburg EMS Aquatic Services and SAPS Water Wing members search for bodies that drowned in the Klip River during a cleansing ritual. Picture: JoburgEMS/Supplied

Joburg EMS Aquatic Services and SAPS Water Wing members search for bodies that drowned in the Klip River during a cleansing ritual. Picture: JoburgEMS/Supplied

Published Nov 27, 2023


By Opinion

The Medical law and Biotechnology flagship, a community engagement flagship housed in the Department of Jurisprudence, at Unisa, has noted the deaths of two young people who were washed away during a river cleansing practice in the Klip River, near Olifantsvlei in Johannesburg.

These drownings follow another incident in December in which the bodies of 15 people were recovered after they were swept away in flash floods in the Jukskei River, in Alexandra.

To understand African spirituality, it is important to highlight the fact that it precedes colonial existence and that it is engraved in the mountains, rivers, waterfalls, valleys, and also pyramids of Kemet, Sudan, and Ethiopia in Africa.

In a way, it is deeply rooted in the way of life and with an understanding that Africans exist in the environment in which they find themselves.

Therefore, African spirituality deals with the healing of the human body and spirit, with a central focus on herbal and other remedial practices.

One of these remedial practices is the river cleansing and before conducting such a practice, healers must first be guided by Amadlozi.

Against this background, African spirituality denounces a healer from going to the river, mountain, or waterfalls at a particular time of the day to perform healing practices and whenever they do so, as a healer you ought to be guided by primary determining factors.

The first factor is a spiritual aspect. It is common knowledge that healers have to spiritually establish whether the river that they intend to conduct human body and spiritual cleansings in is in a good state or not.

They often establish that factor through a spiritual communication with the gods or spirit that resides in that river to guide and give them direction on whether to perform these practices.

In doing so, they would explore and establish if such a particular river is at war with itself as a result of external factors that enter into it such as sewage spilling, industrial chemicals, and other forms of pollution.

In African spirituality, we say the rivers are alive, just like with the sea, and they often have a particular way of communicating their displeasure from external forces.

The second factor is a practical aspect. It is also common knowledge that, as healer, you must study the river enough to understand how it communicates with you and the clients.

This is to enable them to understand the position where the river is deep, shallow, and where cleansing should be conducted or not.

Furthermore, healers should also equip themselves with the necessary tools to conduct cleansing.

For instance, are they able to swim in the event of slipping into the river? Lastly, healers are advised to go through the length and breadth of the river to understand the creatures that live in it and also to be able to recognise if the edges of a particular river are suitable to perform cleansings.

As the Medical law and Biotechnology flagship, our objective is to provide solutions to current legal problems arising in the fields of biotechnology and medical law.

These solutions benefit various stakeholders and the wider public.

As part of solutions to the problem associated with river cleansing drownings, the flagship has observed that traditional leaders’ councils and associations that regulate traditional healers work in co-existence with each other to curb future incidents.

In other words, traditional healers have to understand that they cannot function outside of traditional leaders’ custodianship.

Traditional leaders as the custodians of the rivers, mountains, and valleys of our society where human spiritual cleansing occurs, should assist in the environmental preservation of the rivers and reprimand where there are violations of health and safety measures.

Once more, the government should also assist with the riverbank measurement markings and data so that healers can understand if the rivers are beyond the normal size.

In the end, a strong recommendation for the creation of a regulatory framework and guidelines, similar to those adopted during Covid-19 and initiations schools, will see a decrease in the river cleansing drownings incidences.

In other words, these guidelines should be able to notify healers if it is safe to enter the river at a particular time, observe, and read the speed of the water in the river.

Most deaths occur primarily because healers would have failed to read the combination of spiritual and human practical factors.

These guidelines should also propose the establishment of accountability measures for healers who fail to adhere to this regulatory framework when visiting the rivers for cleaning.

* Authors:

· Konanani Raligilia, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Jurisprudence and Project Leader of Medical Law and Biotechnology Flagship at Unisa.

· Kodisang Bokaba, Lecturer in the Department of Jurisprudence and member of Medical Law and Biotechnology Flagship at Unisa.

· Rorisang Thage, Lecturer in the Department of Mining Engineering and member of Medical Law and Biotechnology Flagship at Unisa.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL