The social diagnostics of stroke-like symptoms: healers, doctors and prophets in Agincourt, Limpopo Province, South Africa

J Biosoc Sci. 2004 Jul;36(4):433-43. doi: 10.1017/s0021932004006662.


This paper focuses on the clinical and social diagnostics of stroke-like symptoms in Limpopo Province, South Africa. The research questions addressed here are: what are the lay understandings of stroke-like symptoms and what are the health-seeking behaviours of Tsongan Mozambican refugees and South Africans in this area? The study site is ten villages in the Agincourt sub-district of Limpopo Province which are within the health surveillance area of the Agincourt Health and Population Unit (AHPU) of the University of Witwatersrand. The population are Tsongan who speak Shangaan and comprise self-settled Mozambican refugees who fled to this area during the 1980s across the nearby border and displaced South African citizens. The latter were forcibly displaced from their villages to make way for game reserves or agricultural development and moved to this area when it was the former 'homeland' of Gazankulu. The team collected data using rapid ethnographic assessment and household interviews as part of the Southern Africa Stroke Prevention Initiative (SASPI). The main findings are that stroke-like symptoms are considered to be both a physical and social condition, and in consequence plural healing using clinical and social diagnostics is sought to address both these dimensions. People with stroke-like symptoms maintain their physical, mental and social well-being and deal with this affliction and misfortune by visiting doctors, healers, prophets and churches.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health / ethnology*
  • Family Characteristics
  • Health Services, Indigenous / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Medicine, African Traditional*
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / ethnology
  • Poverty Areas
  • Refugees / psychology
  • Rural Health*
  • Social Support
  • South Africa / epidemiology
  • Stroke / diagnosis*
  • Stroke / ethnology*
  • Transients and Migrants / psychology
  • Witchcraft