Original Research

‘Who/what causes suffering?’: Discourses on religious healing in African communities

Christina Landman
In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi | Vol 54, No 1 | a2540 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v54i1.2540 | © 2020 Christina Landman | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 26 September 2019 | Published: 28 April 2020

About the author(s)

Christina Landman, Research Institute for Theology and Religion, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa


The discourses on religious healing that are presented here were collected during interviews in seven research projects done in South Africa and Malawi over a period of almost 20 years. The focus is on how interviewees view the cause of their illness or misfortune, and consequently how they understand the healing thereof, which determines where they go for healing. During the first of these projects, church leaders of 102 churches in Atteridgeville (Pretoria, Tshwane) were interviewed during 2002 and 2003 on their healing practices and the beliefs supporting them. This was combined with the author doing counselling from 2000 to 2007 with more than 1000 patients at Kalafong Hospital in Atteridgeville on the religious discourses that guided their lives and informed them about the causes of their misfortune. During 2009, interviews were held with 210 farm workers in the Hoedspruit area (in the eastern part of the Limpopo Province) on the religious causes of, and religious cures for people living with HIV and AIDS. These interviews were followed up by interviews in the rural township of Sakhelwe (in Dullstroom-Emnotweni in the eastern province of Mpumalanga) during 2011, and extended to rural villages around Nkhoma in Malawi (2016). These were followed up by two interviews held with two women of mixed race in the industrial township of Rustenburg-Karlienpark in the North-West Province of South Africa. In addition, similar research was done in two contexts that stand in strong contrast to those described above. These are interviews with men serving long-term sentences in Zonderwater – a correctional facility 60 km outside Pretoria, who were asked about the religious causes of what is perceived as their suffering because of incarceration. The second was interviews conducted at the Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Centre with 11 women on the (religious) causes of them being assaulted by their partners. The similarities and differences of the discourses presented by religious people in a variety of contexts on the causes of their illness and misfortune, and how healing can be effected in religious ways, will be highlighted.


religious discourses; religious causes for illness and misfortune; religious healing; African healing; Atteridgeville; Hoedspruit farm workers; Rustenburg-Karlienpark; Nkhoma, Malawi; Zonderwater; Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment


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Crossref Citations

1. The spiritual experiences of women victims of gender-based violence: A case study of Thohoyandou
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HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies  vol: 78  issue: 3  year: 2022  
doi: 10.4102/hts.v78i3.7528