African Local Knowledge & Livestock Health

African Local Knowledge & Livestock Health

Diseases & Treatments in South Africa

William Beinart, Karen Brown


James Currey



A much needed examination of contemporary approaches to animal healing in South Africa, and the role of local knowledge.
Understanding local knowledge has become a central academic project among those interested in Africa and developing countries. In South Africa, land reform is gathering pace and African people hold an increasing proportion of the livestock in the country. Animal health has become a central issue for rural development. Yet African veterinary medical knowledge remains largely unrecorded. This book seeks to fill that gap. It captures for the first time the diversity, as well as the limits, of a major sphere of local knowledge.

Beinart and Brown argue that African approaches to animal health rest largely in environmental and nutritional explanations. They explore the widespread use of plants as well as biomedicines for healing. While rural populations remain concerned about supernatural threats, and many men think that women can harm their cattle, the authors challenge current ideas on the modernisation of witchcraft. They examine more ambient forms of supernatural danger expressed in little-known concepts such as mohato and umkhondo. They take the reader into the homesteads and kraals of rural black South Africans and engage with a key rural concern - vividly reporting the ideas of livestock owners. This is groundbreaking research which will have important implications for analyses of local knowledge more generally as well as effective state interventions and animal treatments in South Africa.

William Beinart is Rhodes Professor of Race Relations, African Studies Centre, University of Oxford; Karen Brown is an ESRC Research Fellow at the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, University of Oxford.

Southern Africa (South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Swaziland): Wits University Press

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November 2013
18 black and white, 5 line illustrations
320 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
ISBN: 9781847010834
Format: Hardback
James Currey
BISAC SOC002000, SCI026000, HIS001000
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Related Titles

Table of Contents

Introduction: African Local Knowledge and Veterinary Pluralism
Ticks, Tick-borne Diseases and the Limits of Local Knowledge
'The Grave of the Cow is in the Stomach': Environment and Nutrition in the Explanation and Prevention of Livestock Diseases
Transhumance, Animal Diseases and Environment
Plants and Drugs: Medicating Livestock
Medicinal Plants: Their Selection and their Properties
Animal Health and Ideas of the Supernatural
Gender, Space and the Supernatural


This work is an important and timely intervention.[and] should thus be of wide interest to scholars and policy makers alike. AFRICAN AFFAIRS

African Local Knowledge is an important book. Its wider arguments are engaging and should encourage a rethinking of older, binary oppositions between "science" and "tradition" in other regions of African pastoral production where patterns of grazing management have also changed and where these ideas now seem equally outdated. AFRICAN STUDIES REVIEW

'a path-breaking view of South African animal disease and remedies where African owners are concerned. Focusing on local veterinary knowledge and therapeutics by African owners in such depth through 200 interviews in five areas is innovative and opens up an original field of knowledge and practice.' - Professor Anne Digby, Oxford Brookes University