Natural Justice was very sad to hear of the passing of Rodney Sibuyi, Chief Executive of the Kukula Traditional Health Practitioners Association. Natural Justice first connected with Rodney in 2009, after an introduction by K2C around issues related to traditional knowledge, access and benefit sharing and community protocols. The Kukula decided to develop their own community protocol with Natural Justice facilitating the process, and in late 2009 their Biocultural Community Protocol was finalized. Their protocol clearly outlined that the Kukula are committed to keeping their communities healthy which includes tending to their physical, cultural and spiritual well-being, and it highlighted that as their traditional medicines comes from the areas in which they live they are also committed to protecting their biodiversity and ensuring that any use of their biodiversity or knowledge directly benefits the Kukula and their communities.
Rodney was an inspirational and visionary leader, under his guidance the Kukula grew to 350 members, they established an Executive Committee, a Management Committee and several Sub-Committees to cover the wide geographic area their members were drawn from. They developed a Code of Ethics, and a traditional knowledge commons, and engaged with a variety of stakeholders in their quest to gain formal recognition for their role as healers and claim their customary rights. Stakeholders included Tribal Authorities, and government departments including the Department of Health, Department of Environmental Affairs, and the Department of Science and Technology. The Kukula’s innovative approaches and openness to engage with a variety of stakeholders, share their experiences and learn from others, meant Rodney was often invited to meetings and workshops. A wide variety of regional platforms and networks in Africa and internationally have benefitted from his insights, particularly regarding developing Access and Benefit Sharing agreements, laws and policies, and the role of healers to contribute towards the stewardship, sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity. Rodney was instrumental in constructive engagement with external parties interested in the Kukula’s traditional knowledge and governance systems, and over the years many students and researchers, both local and international, visited the Kukula to learn from them. Rodney had also led the recent revision of the Kukula’s Biocultural Community Protocol, which was finalized at the end of 2017.
Rodney grew up under South Africa’s discriminatory Apartheid laws, and answering his calling as a traditional healer also meant he was further marginalized by many. Despite enormous challenges Rodney’s deeply philosophical and spiritual approach to life, to healing those is his community, and to promoting and supporting the Kukula through constructive engagement with external players has left a lasting legacy. His presence will be sorely missed. Natural Justice’s thoughts are with his family and the Kukula at this difficult time and we take comfort that he is with his ancestors he so warmly spoke of.