On November, 12th, 2022, Mandala Zimba Village in Mzimba district woke-up to sad news from South Africa.
Daughter in-law to Christina Mphande residing in the rainbow nation had died.
Whilst news about this death sank, communities and family members blamed it on Mphande aged 77 saying people of her age practice witchcraft.
In weeks to follow it was time for the remains to be repatriated, and the worst was yet to come for Gogo Mphande because the burial of her in-law became her nightmare.
At a graveyard in Traditional Authority Kampingo the old-granny and her younger sister were manhandled, tortured and assaulted.
Some bullies and hooligans were demanding their burial alive and in the process Gogo Mphande had her teeth to lose.
“All I remember is that I was attacked whilst burying the body, and I found myself in the grave, I asked myself, is this end of my life? I gave my life Jesus” said Mphande.
The assault of Mphande hasn’t been the first because such acts of abuse, torture and killing of elderly persons over accusations of witchcraft have almost become acceptable in Malawi.
Here; another casualty Maggie Nyengani aged 72 from Traditional Authority Nazombe in Phalombe comes to light.
Nyengani was mobbed to death on January, 01st 2023 by angry villagers on allegations of practicing witchcraft to the despair of Young Muhamba – President of APAM — the association of persons with albinism in Malawi.
He says such barbaric attacks are living persons with albinism, women, children and the elderly more vulnerable.
“Witchcraft beliefs are really a problem when it comes to Malawi as a whole, in terms of our laws and policies, but when we talk on the side of persons with albinism traditional doctors have been a problem in terms of increasing attacks and exhumation of graves of people with albinism because in most of the cases involving exhumation of graves it has been found that the perpetrators are encouraged by traditional doctors” said Muhamba.
Currently Malawi’s laws do not recognize the existence of witchcraft, according to the 1911 Witchcraft Act making it an offence to accuse anyone of practicing witchcraft.
Under the provision, even a claim of practicing witchcraft becomes liable to a fine of 25 pounds and to five years imprisonment.
In the face of the Republican Constitution guaranteeing the right to human dignity and personal freedoms, Wycliffe Maso – director for disability and elderly rights with the Malawi Human Rights Commission speaks-out its frustration.
“We have seen that there has been a lot of mob justice in as far as women are concerned based on witchcraft accusation, property have been burnt, some of them even being chased from their communities, but what we should understand from the rights perspective, everyone has got the right to property, the right economic activity, right to life especially when we look at appendix section 11 of the constitution no life should be arbitrary taken away in whatever circumstance” said Maso.
On the other hand, Peter Dimba, Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Legal Affairs says its time the country recognizes the existence of witchcraft and make its practice criminal as recommended by the Special Law Commission on the review of witchcraft Act headed by Justice Robert Chinangwa retired.
“I understand the law commission has been busy reviewing the witchcraft law and I think recently we got reports that the law on witchcraft I think it’s almost ready and I hope that when its actually enacted is going to help us as a nation in dealing with these issues where we have seen a number of people particularly the elderly and persons with albinism undergoing mob justice on suspicion of witchcraft so I hope that when the law gets enacted is going to deal with those issues” said Dimba.
However, traditional medicine practitioners differ; some don’t believe in witchcraft saying it’s all imaginary in the words of Dr. Holistics Alex Banda chairman of United Traditional Medicine
“If it is true, why are the ones killing people with albinism or telling people to kill them still poor? What we should do is to check what causes a death” said Banda.
And this is also shared by the ministry of civic education and national unity which stresses on civic engagement to combat violence linked to witchcraft beliefs according to Alick Kampeza its spokesperson.
“The ministry is looking at how we can finalize or review the legal processes on witchcraft, this process has been there for some time now, so the ministry has engaged ministry of gender, Ministry of Justice, Malawi Human Rights Commission to bang heads on how we can expedite the processes so that we need to have this legal frame work amidst of us so that may be it can assist us to resolve some of these issues” said Kampeza.
With a recent Afrobarometer survey indicating 3 in every 4
Malawians believing in the existence of witchcraft and supporting its criminalization … sustainable development campaigners are worried.
Vincent Thom one of the campaigners feels the continued abuses over witchcraft allegations is a threat towards the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal number 16 on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development.
“ It is unfortunate that recently we have seen the rise of cases where people with albinism, the elderly and other vulnerable groups are being attacked anyhow, so obviously this will and has impacted us negatively in terms of moving forward in the implementation goal number 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals which we adopted as a country” said Thom.
Thom said “basically what it means is that there is an inequity in the society development will be affected and basically what happens is that these communities or the households or the affected people become unproductive which in the end affect the growth of the economy, community as well as of the country”
It is a sad reality that such accusations of witchcraft like this have just not claimed innocent lives, they also impact directly and negatively on development as they often result in violent conflict with devastating effects on macro economies through the destruction of livelihoods and infrastructure like the case blood sucking rumors of 2019.
And Malawi needs solution!