South Africa: The Right Medicine for Muthi Hunters


While rangers fight rhino poachers, SANParks is trying to save medicinal plants from extinction.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

As five men arrested for the illegal possession of a protected plant species without a permit were appearing in a Cape Town court recently, about 1,800km away in a nursery in the Kruger National Park workers were busy tending to plants as part of a project to save them from being poached to extinction.

The men were arrested in Durbanville near Cape Town last year and charged for being in possession of wild ginger (Siphonochilus aethiopicus) without a permit.

Wild ginger, xirungulu in Xitsonga, isiphephetho in isiZulu or serokolo in Sotho languages, is listed as an endangered species in the Threatened or Protected Species list in terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act 10 of 2004.

A permit is required for the harvesting, possession and trade in the species, which is highly sought by healers for use in treating various ailments and for conducting certain spiritual rites.

The Cape Town men are expected back in court on 17 May - but their case is neither unique nor an isolated one. According to the Convention on International...

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