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Friday, November 22, 2019


The African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines published a study on the potential of South African Indigenous plants in reducing the risk and spread of cancerous cells. Sunelle and colleagues (2019) concluded that three plant extracts, Combretum molle fruit extract, Euclea crispa subsp. crispa and Sideroxylon inerme possess antioxidant and anti-proliferative properties in the prevention and treatment of cancer. This is an important discovery as cancer treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and drugs have many side effects and are becoming less and less effective. 

Medicinal plants play a very important role in providing affordable and accessible health care in Indigenous African communities. Traditional indigenous knowledge has and continues to be used by the scientific community and pharmaceutical industry to create medication to treat life threatening diseases such as cancer. Open access articles like this one facilitate the dissemination of this knowledge to the South African and international communities who can implement it in medical practice. 

However, it is important to consider the power dynamics involved in the exploitation of Indigenous knowledge and practices. Rachel Wynberg explores this in her article: “Justice is still not being done in the exploitation of indigenous products”. She argues that South African Indigenous communities deserve the same economic and social recognition for the discovery of medicinal plants as the large corporations who manufacture and distribute them. As such, the scientific discovery of the antioxidant and anti-proliferative properties of Combretum molle fruit extract, Euclea crispa subsp. crispa and Sideroxylon inerme should be considered from a social justice approach. Wynberg establishes the following strategies through which social justice can be achieved:
  • Interrogating the unequal power relations of African natural product value chains
  • Securing ownership rights to the resources, knowledge and land that have been alienated for centuries form Indigenous South African people
  • Building the long-term financial and technical capacity of communities to engage in commercialization of Indigenous South African plants
  • Facilitating market access 
As the demand for traditional medicinal plants continues to increase, a collaborative approach involving all stakeholders is very much needed in order to ensure equity, economic development for local communities, as well as sustainable use of Indigenous medicinal plants. 


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