Traditional medicine in late pregnancy and labour: perceptions of kgaba remedies amongst the Tswana in South Africa

  • Rolanda van der Kooi Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine,UK; The REACH Trust, P.O. Box 1597, Lilongwe, Malawi
  • Sally Theobald Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Pembroke Place, Liverpool, L3 5QA, UK
Keywords: traditional medicine, labour, ethnopharmacology, South Africa


In South Africa most black women use antenatal care services and deliver in clinics, and a considerable number complement this use of formal health services with traditional medicine. This study reported here examined the knowledge, beliefs and practical experiences of pregnant women, traditional healers and midwives with regard to kgaba (traditional medicine) and explored what constitutes kgaba. Interviews (N=30) and focus group discussions (N=21) were carried out among participants in Mogwase district in the North West Province of South Africa, where the use of kgaba remedies is commonly believed to cause foetal distress and an increase in caesarean sections. Findings indicated that kgaba remedies are ingested not only to prevent or solve physical problems but are also perceived as valuable in protecting against the harm that evil spirits can cause during pregnancy. Experiences with kgaba differed among participants and this may relate to the variety of plants used, their preparation and dosage. The use of crushed ostrich eggshell, which is perceived as inducing labour, emerged as an important finding. The use of kgaba as perceived by the Tswana is an important component in the experience of pregnancy and labour. However, communication about the use of kgaba between pregnant women and health staff was poor and hinders reporting or recording of dosage and evaluation of effects. There is a need to develop strategies that promote open dialogue between health providers and communities on the use of traditional medicine.

Keywords: traditional medicine, labour, ethnopharmacology, South Africa

African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines Vol. 3(1) 2006: 11-22

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eISSN: 0189-6016