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African Environmental Tradition

Author: Credo Mutwa ~ African Sangoma

( Article Type: Sustainable Development )

Sinking of medicinal plants into the hole of extinction

I first became a sangoma in 1937 and in those days there were healing plants, which were plentiful all over Natal and other parts of South Africa. I could list well over 50 different kinds of plants, which healers. But many of these plants have vanished, never to return, because extinction has now become an accelerating and ongoing process. And as the extinction of valuable plants goes on in South Africa, our people suffer horribly. As a direct result of this, as traditional, safe, herbal medicines vanish, our people are growing more and more to seek refuge in highly dangerous chemical substances in their battle against sickness. I have tried in vain to fight against this thing, against these alien, un-African chemicals and my fight has repeatedly failed. One of the things that brings about the extinction of medicinal plants in South Africa is the fact that since the late 1920s, there has existed in South Africa what are called ‘muti-shops’, shops run by Indian, white as well as African business men. These shops literally sell tons of herbal plants and bark of trees all over the main cities of our country. It is this huge ‘muti’ industry and not the traditional healers, which is responsible for the depletion of many precious herbal medicines. Anyone who blames traditional healers for this extinction should ask himself: ‘Is it traditional healers who are exporting tons of South African herbal plants and other natural resources to nations in theFar East in container ships?’ Because this is exactly what is happening! Tons of African plants are being ripped out of the land and exported to India, to Hong Kong and other places far away and no traditional healer is involved in this criminal industry, but enterprising businessmen, to whom money is everything, businessmen who do not care about the extinction of our country’s precious plant life. The people who export African herbs to the Far East are the same people who are exporting rhino horn to Hong Kong. Unscrupulous, merciless people who blind themselves to their responsibility as human beings, in the glare of gold and greed. I strongly believe that the continued extinction of animal as well as plant species in our country is behind the deterioration in health among all human beings that we see in Africa today. Because all the things are interlinked and the destruction of one is the destruction of all. I sometimes suspect that the terrible disease AIDS resulted, amongst other things, from the continuing extinction of living things in our country. An extinction, which has thrown the entire girdle of nature out of balance.

Preventing Gondwana’s demise

The prevention of Gondwana’s demise must not be made into something that belongs only to scientists; it must be the national duty of every one of us, no matter how high on the ladder of modern life or how low in that ladder one happens to be standing. The preservation of our planet is our duty, and no politician or whoever should stand in our way in the performance of this important duty. One thing that amazes me is that there are many white men and women amongst the ranks of South Africa’s animal and plant conservation crusaders who wrongly believe that only they and they alone should fight for the conservation of the green life of our country. These people are wrong, arrogantly, stupidly wrong! If conservation is to have any meaning whatsoever, it should be restored back to the hearts and the minds of grassroots level. The white man must not think that only he can save this country. He is failing. We want to fight for our country, we want to ensure that a hundred years from now this country will at least still have some of the sacred animals and trees that we used to see in the past. Africans must be encouraged to join this crusade in large numbers. Africa must be encouraged to once more become her own protector as she was, before colonialist guns, cannons and muskets enslaved her. We revered nature, at a time when Victorian-era Englishmen, Frenchmen and Germans regarded nature as something to be raped, to be enslaved, to be tamed and destroyed. I once read a poem written by an Englishman of those times, a poem, which stated and I quote: ‘interrogate nature with power.’ As if Mother Nature was a captive, chained hand and foot in some dark and wet dungeon where she would be tortured with electrical power for the benefit of some vampire lord in some nameless European country. Interrogate nature with power indeed! Look where it has got us, gentlemen and ladies! Our people did not see humanity as beings apart from the rest of nature, our people did not see humankind as a race of uber menchen, super men over other living things; our people were fully aware of the slavish dependence that man had on nature. They knew that if nature is destroyed, man will die.

And here ends my story

Many years ago, so goes a story, there was a very cruel chieftain, in the land of the Batswana. A mad man who used to kill animals for pleasure. One day his people got tired of what this tyrant was doing. So they seized him, bound him and placed him upon a sled and they pulled him over many days to a faraway desert plain, where there was no water, no grass, no animals, save snakes and lizards. And out there in the heart of the desert, the angry people set their chief free. They gave him no weapon, no tool, no vessel, and left him with these words: ‘Great king, we leave you now to rule over the type of country that you appear to prefer.’ It is said by the storytellers that the man only survived a few days before he perished and was found as a heap of bleached bones at the very foot of a tall sand dune. He who had wanted to turn the land into a desert, died in the heart of a desert. That was the Africa that was our mother. Those were the laws that were the religion, and here ends my story.

This Article consists of extracts from an interview with Credo Mutwa by the Gondwana Alive Society.
The full interview can be read in their publication Towards Gondwana Alive Vol. 2 – A set of 100 strategies towards stemming the Sixth Extinction.
This 330-page, full-colour book is available from: Dr John M Anderson, Managing Editor, Gondwana Alive, National Botanical Institute, Pretoria, Private Bag X101, Pretoria, 0001, South Africa.

Associated Topics:

Deep Ecology , Earth Charter (The)