Lifestyle & Belief

South African court rules witchdoctor's sick note valid


Winnie Nsimbi, a sangoma (a South African traditional healer or spiritual medium) throws bones to divine the future at her shop in Johannesburg's Mai Mai market.


Erin Conway-Smith

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — A woman who took a month off work with a sick note from her traditional healer that claimed she was being "badly tormented by her ancestors" must be reinstated to the job she was fired from, a South African court has ruled.

Johannah Mmelodi had worked for the Kievits Kroon country estate for eight years, and in her spare time took a course to become a traditional healer and diviner, known in South Africa as a "sangoma."

After completing the course, she asked for a month’s unpaid leave take another sangoma training course. 

But when her employers refused, Mmelodi took the month off anyway, handing in a sick note from her own sangoma that stated she was being “badly tormented by her ancestors," the Beeld newspaper reported.

Upon returning to work, Mmelodi was subject to a disciplinary hearing and then fired.

South Africa's labor dispute resolution body found that Mmelodi’s dismissal was unfair, and reinstated her in her job. The employer appealed, but a panel of three judges from the Labor Appeal Court has now ruled in Mmelodi's favor.

In their verdict, the judges admitted the ruling is "something new," but said South Africa is a land of many cultures and traditional Western culture should not dominate the African culture of many of the country’s inhabitants, the South African Press Association said, citing the Beeld report.

"This case sadly shows what happens when cultures clash in the workplace," the judges wrote.

Mmelodi "could have died or suffered from some serious and mysterious accident or misfortune if she could have ignored the ancestors and continued to work as instructed," her sangoma told the court during cross-examination. 

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