Everson Luhanga

From behind a curtain in Charles Gezani Mahumane’s one-room house, people get steamed up. Some go in naked and some fully dressed up. They claim that they are healing themselves from Covid-19.

But doctors have warned that steaming is not a cure for the deadly virus which has claimed many lives across the globe.

Dr Angelique Coetzee who is the Chairperson of the South African Medical Association said steaming does help alleviate symptoms but doesn’t add much value in the healing of Covid-19 patients.

“Steaming should be done as nebulising with 3% Saline, normally 4ml in the machine. It helps loosen phlegm and coughing is then easier. It adds no other value,” she said.

But many people don’t buy that medical explanation. Instead, they take a short left to the traditional healers’ yards.

When Cebokazi and her friend developed Covid-19 symptoms, they were terrified of what the disease would do to them, but they didn’t go to hospital.

The two women, who share a room in Alexandra township in Joburg, went to a traditional healer in Alex’s Stjwetla informal settlement, the place where the first coronavirus patient was found.

“I had a fever and a headache. I lost appetite and had a dry cough. I suspected this could be Covid-19,” said 24-year-old Cebokazi.

“I couldn’t wait. I have seen close friends and family in the Eastern Cape dying from the virus. I rushed to him.”

Traditional healer Charles Gezani Mahumane steams his customers when they show Covid-19 symptoms. Cebokazi said she has seen many people in the township get help through steaming from the healer’s yard. 

When Scrolla.Africa visited Gezani there were many people queuing outside his one-room brick house.

Inside his room, behind a curtain, two people at a time are covered with a big white plastic sheet with a 25-litre plastic bucket filled with boiling water. Most of them are instructed to remove their clothes when steaming, some go in dressed up.

People spend about five minutes in the room and come out covered in sweat.

Gezani said since March he has been in contact with many people who come to his house to steam. 

“I have never been infected because I steam after my long day with customers,” he said.

He said during the second wave he had many patients with Covid-19 symptoms coming to him.

“I don’t give them any muthi. I steam and advise them to isolate. Some have come back to thank me,” he said.

Gezani said there are many people who steam from their houses. He explained that the steaming is practised widely across South Africa and other African countries like Tanzania and Madagascar.

He said some people don’t go to hospitals because they think hospitals are places one could easily catch the virus. 

Italian researchers at Meyer Children’s University Hospital, in Florence, Italy, have published a study on the efficiency of steam inhalations as a possible treatment to help mitigate SARS-CoV-2 infection. The research suggests that steam inhalation cycles can be considered to be useful in preventing infection.

Included among high profile people who have claimed to have beaten the virus through streaming are Saftu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and songbird Gabisile Tshabalala.