Contributor: Miriam Waltz
On 16 November a group of Rastafarian bossiedokters (herbalists), in collaboration with SLF, hosted a film screening at the Labia Theatre in Cape Town. Titled ‘Everliving’, the stories showed how bush doctors face police harassment, exclusionary conservation polices, lack of access to land, and mistrust. The stories also explored the bush doctor’s identities as healers, fathers, sons, and community elders, and their relationship with nature. The stories were created through a personal storytelling for transformation (PST) process facilitated by SLF in April this year, and were part of the Making All Voices Count (MAVC) project.
The event drew an audience of about 35 people interested in conservation and social justice. After a short introduction of the MAVC project by Joanna Wheeler, Elder Neville introduced the first four stories, which showcased films reflecting aspects of everyday life, of biography, and how the storytellers came to live and believe and do what they do. A brief discussion after these four films addressed questions from the audience around how the bossiedokters became Rastafarians and how they obtain their knowledge about medicinal plants. Leif Petersen spoke about the Herbanisation project, which some of the bossiedokters were previously involved in and which was the focus of his story.
Elder Reuben introduced the second set of movies, centering around ‘persecution’. These three stories directly addressed experiences of oppression or occasions where the freedom of the bossiedokters was constrained. Part of the ensuing discussion focused on the question of permits. While some audience members suggested that the bossiedokters should lobby for better permit conditions, as other groups of mountain-users have done before, some of the bossiedokters objected that this is against their belief-system and their views on nature and private property. The conversation went to common objectives of bossiedokters and conservationists and the challenges the latter group faces in doing their work. In the end, it was clear that for the Rastafarian herbalists, it was their spiritual need and right to go to the mountain and laws and regulations were seen as radically constraining, not just on their physical bodies and their livelihoods, but also on their identity and spirituality.