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Muti is a term for traditional medicine in Southern Africa as far north as Lake Tanganyika. The word muti is derived from the Zulu word for tree, of which the root is -thi. African Traditional medicine makes use of various natural products, many of which are derived from trees. For this reason, medicine generally is known as muti, but it is also applied to formulations used in traditional medical dispensing. In Southern Africa, the word muti is in widespread use in most indigenous African languages, as well as in South African English and Afrikaans where it is sometimes used as a slang word for medicine in general.

In Afrikaans it is also often used to refer to medicines that have a 'miraculous' effect, e.g. Die dokter het 'muti' op die seerplek gesmeer en die volgende dag was dit heeltemal gesond. (The doctor rubbed 'muti' on the wound and the next day it was completely healed.)


Correct form of the word

This noun is of the umu / imi class, consequently the singular (tree) is rendered Umuthi and plural (trees) is Imithi. Since the pronunciation of the initial vowel of this umu / imi class of Zulu noun, is unstressed, the singular Umuthi is sometimes heard as 'Muthi'. The word is rendered as muti due to the historical effects of British Colonial spelling.

Colloquial use

In colloquial English and Afrikaans the word may be used as per the following example:

  • "My doctor gave me some muti for my sore throat"
  • "My dokter het vir my muti verskaf vir my seer keel"


Occasions of murder and mutilation associated with some traditional cultural practices, in Southern Africa are also termed Muti killings. Muti killings, more correctly known as medicine murder are not human sacrifice in a religious sense, but rather involve the murder of someone in order to excise body parts for incorporation as ingredients into medicine and concoctions used in witchcraft.

In 2010 Muti (also known as Muthi) killings are on the rise in South Africa. Some South Africans, especially in the Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces, believe that the harvested body parts of children or old people will assist in them becoming rich and powerful.

"Deputy Provincial Commissioner of the South African Police Service, William Mpembe said...muthi murders, particularly those involving young children, seem to be on the rise in the Tshwane areas including Soshanguve, Garankua and Rietgat." - Sowetan Newspaper. 22 February 2010.

This from "Congress of SA Students (Cosas) Soshanguve leader, Thabo Nsako, urged traditional healers at the seminar to "stop killing children for muti. "Your duty is to protect us, not to kill us. Ancestors can never [tell] you to kill people." He said Western countries saw the practice as witchcraft and wanted nothing to do with it because of practices such as muti-killings."It is your fault," he told the healers. Nduku defended traditional healers, saying they had nothing to do with killing humans or using their body parts for healing."

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