Women Traditional Leaders

Between 2003 and 2005 eighteen sangomas (women traditional leaders) or groups of sangomas were interviewed in the Durban, Pietermaritzburg and Newcastle areas, some of them several times. One of the researchers' aims was to examine the impact of African traditional religion on Christianity. In traditional African communities every position of leadership is religious because the holder communicates with the ancestors or the Creator. This means that all who have positions of authority in the family and community are in fact religious leaders.

 Prof. Isabel Phiri (centre) gives to one of the sangomas a transcript of her interview

Most interviews were conducted in isiZulu and subsequently translated into English. Hundreds of pages of interview transcripts are now available. These life stories document issues such as initiation, rituals to the ancestors, violence, sexual abuse, homosexuality and HIV/AIDS. The project ended with a traditional ceremony in which all the sangomas took part in Kwandengezi near Durban on 20 October 2006. A copy of the transcript was handed over to all participants and a goat was slaughtered in honour of the ancestors.


Phiri, Isabel, "Virginity Testing? African Women Seeking Resources to Combat HIV/AIDS, Journal of Constructive Theology, 9/1 (July 2003),
pp. 63-78.

Denis, Philippe, "Dealing With the Trauma of Sexual Abuse: A Gender-Based Analysis of the Testimonies of Female Traditional Healers in KwaZulu-Natal", Journal of Constructive Theology 10/2 (December 2004), pp. 41-58.

--, "Peacemaking And Reconciliation: The Contribution of African Indigenous Religious Women in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa", Journal of Theology for Southern Africa, Number 124 (November 2005)
pp. 34-54.

--, "The rise of African traditional religion in post-apartheid South Africa", Missionalia34/2-3 (2006), pp. 310-323.

French translation: "La montée de la religion traditionnelle dans l’Afrique du Sud démocratique", Histoire & Missions Chrétiennes 3 (September 2007), pp. 121-135.