Cansa indulges the quacks (and students indulge the homeopaths)

So, as mentioned in a Daily Maverick column, I was recently asked to grant a student an extension on an assignment deadline. Her request was accompanied by the “medical certificate” below:


Yes, that is from a naturopath, who also advertises skills related to iridology (your eyes, the iris in particular, being a reliable source of information about your health), herbal tinctures, and homeopathy. And in what you’d hope is a joke, but isn’t, the course in question is explicitly about evidence-based decision-making. Worse still – during the week this particular assignment was due, the lecture topic was pseudoscience, with explicit reference to homeopathy.

A reader encouraged me to submit a complaint to the Registrar of the Allied Health Professions Council, which I’ve done as per the text below:

I would like to formally bring a matter to your attention, as Registrar of the Allied Health Professions Council. The attached note, bearing the letterhead of Renata Zijp (Reg A9803; Prac 0805564) was submitted in support of a student’s application to be granted an extension on an assignment in my course at the University of Cape Town.

While I realise that it’s not within your purview to completely eliminate pseudoscientific professions such as homeopathy, I would hope that legislation and common sense both argue against practitioners in these fields issuing certificates such as the one attached.

The certificate makes no mention of the ailment that was diagnosed, nor does it offer any information as to when the student would be fit to return to her studies. In other words, as a piece of testimony as to the medical condition of the student, it is useless for two reasons: the fact that Zijp is a practitioner of professions of dubious value; and even within those professions, has offered testimony that is useless and even misleading.

It is misleading because, in using the imprimatur of science, a less attentive or more gullible member of the academic community might accept such a certificate as a legitimate reason to grant the student an extension. It is not, and presenting certificates such as these is an insult to those who suffer from genuine ailments, and to the professionals who treat them.

Finally, even though the AHPC must of course concern itself with matters directly related to the professions in question, we arguably all have a responsibility to hold other citizens to account for the contributions played in promoting reason and rationality, or the converse of those. Students (ironically, in this case students in a course teaching evidence-based decision-making) should not be given the impression that these sorts of certificates have any merit, and practitioners should be dissuaded – if not barred – from issuing them.

If you encounter any similar instances, you can get in touch with the Registrar of the Allied Health Professions Council, Dr Louis Mullinder, at to officially lodge a complaint.

Incidentally, my complaint might bear some fruit, seeing as I’m reliably informed that the practitioner in question “is registered as a naturopath, but not as a homoeopath. It is a breach of the Regulations to the Act to give the impression that she is registered as a homoeopath. I expect that the Registrar will deal with it harshly – quite apart from the highly problematic wording of the actual certificate.”

While on the subject of quackery: CANSA, the country’s main cancer advocacy organisation, is promoting and marketing an untested supplement. Prof. Roy Jobson of Rhodes University pharmacology dept criticised them, and they responded with a lawyer’s letter threatening to sue.

  • In a delightfully oblivious email, the student who was given the medical certificate above emailed me yesterday, to say that this is all a misunderstanding. She had been given a valid medical certificate, and then an extension to it, which is the one scanned above. In her email was a scan of the “valid” medical certificate – which again lists no ailment, and which again bears a letterhead pretending to be a homeopath (which is itself, of course, pretending to be a medical practitioner).

  • M van Heerden

    Dear Jacques

    I am afraid you are the ignorant one.

    To become a Naturopath or Phytotherapist, you study an intense 3 year degree, followed by 2 years of honours, by the University of Western Cape.

    Once the above education completed, you register by the Allied Health Professions Council, and obtain the hard-earned and well qualified title as a “doctor”.
    Needless to say, a Naturopath is not a quack, neither a non-professional, and certainly is a practitioner in the medical field.
    Your ignorance is astounding.
    More and more people turn to Naturopaths and Phytotherapists for medical help. Conventional medicine is fine, but not always the best.
    So while you pop another unnecessary antibiotic, I will rather choose to take my Moducare.

    • Ignorant I might be, but at least I can read attentively. The blog post complains about homeopathy, not naturopathy, and about the fact that the practitioner in question isn’t registered properly (as a homeopath).

      To your misguided point, though – the existence of qualification X doesn’t make X automatically respectable.