Putting occupational health and safety first for informal workers: A profile of MaDlamini

Annalise Mathers & Tasmi Quazi

MaDlamini, also known as Zodwa Khumalo, is a figurehead and matriarch in Warwick Junction. At 71 years old, she is one of the most well-known and respected traditional healers, or izinyanga, in the Traditional Medicine or Muthi Market, where over 700 healers and their associates prepare traditional medicine for those seeking treatment for their ailments.

With over 20 years of insight working in the Muthi Market, MaDlamini is no stranger to the daily realities of informal work that expose informal workers to occupational health and safety hazards. Yet she, and many other workers, must brave these hazards day-by-day to support themselves and their families through their work. None of these dangers have stopped her from taking on a vital leadership role in the market community and, as she declares, seeking prosperity for the people here.

MaDlamini at her workplace stall based at the Muthi Market in Warwick Junction. Photo: Tasmi Quazi.

Given her long-standing involvement and livelihood in Warwick, the absence of MaDlamini from her stall in the Muthi Market over the past few months has been acutely noticed. On 19 January 2016, she was a victim of a taxi accident, and she sustained severe injuries to her right hip and femur. While she was admitted to hospital the following day with broken bones, doctors subsequently found underlying heart and kidney complications.

The precarious nature of her livelihood and health issues present an enormous burden for MaDlamini as the breadwinner of her extended family; two of her own children have passed away, leaving MaDlamini to provide for four grandchildren, one great grandchild, and her adult niece with child. Shortly after her admittance, MaDlamini chose to leave the care of the hospital to return to provide for her family. In a household of 8, buying groceries each month stretches the limits of MaDlamini’s income, which at this time is solely dependent on her state-provided social grant of R1500 (approximately $ 95 USD) per month.

The mural depicting MaDlamini’s portrait painted on the underpass pillar of the flyover, celebrating her role as a Traditional Healer in Warwick Junction. Image source: here.

Recently, she re-admitted herself to hospital for the infection of her broken leg, placing MaDlamini back into the unstable nexus of accessing public health services while trying to provide for her family. While MaDlamini is away from her market stall, her grandson is trying to run her business to support his sister in her Grade 12 final exams. This is a point of grave concern for MaDlamini, as he does not have the expertise and wisdom that MaDlamini brings to her patients – patients with whom she has built relationships over many years.

For the past 8 years, MaDlamini has been working to build a home for her grandchildren in her township of kwaMakhutha. Her wish to construct this house stands strong against the historic entrapment in socio-economic insecurity that characterizes the lives of many informal workers like MaDlamini, who have no social protection when they are sick, injured or are tending to maternity care. She has expressed anxiety about the unfinished construction and also of falling in arrears with her workspace rental payment whilst having to seek medical care for her injuries.

MaDlamini at her workplace stall based at the Muthi Market in Warwick Junction. Photo: Dennis Gilbert.
MaDlamini at her workplace stall based at the Muthi Market in Warwick Junction. Photo: Dennis Gilbert.

MaDlamini’s experience as a victim of a workplace accident is poignant because she represents one of many women informal workers and state-aided pensioners that rely on their livelihoods as informal workers in order to support their multiple dependents. Furthermore, despite her long-standing status in Warwick Junction and amongst her community members, she remains vulnerable to the daily threats of income insecurity and occupational health and safety hazards.

Thus, as a result of the accident having dire impacts on her health and livelihood, MaDlamini reaffirms that policies, regulatory frameworks, and urban spaces must be carefully designed to ensure that they attend to the health and safety of informal workers from a gender sensitive perspective.

Banner photo credit: here.

1 thought on “Putting occupational health and safety first for informal workers: A profile of MaDlamini”

  1. Wish her a speed recovery, we love her so much. She had play a big role in that market (herb market) if it wasn’t for her we wouldn’t have the beautiful market that we have now.

    I love u mama fisa phole kwezozinhlungu


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