Worlds Apart? Religious interpretations and witchcraft in interpretations and witchcraft in for HIV/AIDS in South Africa.

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University of Cape Town

Academic research has tended to explain traditional African health practices as part of a belief system, usually understood as religious. Biomedicine meanwhile harnesses this religious definition as validation of the familiar dichotomy between non-factual 'beliefs' and the 'evidence-based' knowledge claims of scientific medicine. This paper rather defines traditional African health practices as a healing system running in parallel to biomedicine as part of the pluralist health service of South Africa. The paper is contextualised on the conference theme of the alignments between religion and health in the harnessing and mobilising social health assets. Focused on fieldwork in the Western Cape Province of South Africa, it presents some assumptions voiced by health workers about the beliefs and practice of amagqirha (Xhosa; pl. igqirha s.: diviner/healers) and considers the various ways in which these are negotiated. The paper first interrogates how health workers' understandings of traditional African healing may be operating to advance or limit the possibilities for cross-cultural health interventions in HIV/AIDS. The second part of the paper considers a particular construction in this equation - the discomfiting question of witchcraft discourse.