The Witch-Hunt Saboteurs
My latest piece in The New Humanist:
Two Decembers ago, an elderly widow called Zuwana Kampalira went on trial for practising witchcraft. The judge heard evidence that Kampalira had taken a young girl on a magic plane to the village where her grandfather lived. There she pressured the girl to kill her grandfather with a magic hammer. When the girl refused, Kampalira allegedly sought to persuade her to murder her father. The defendant initially denied these charges, but later changed her plea on the advice of the police. The court took a dim view, sentencing her to 30 months imprisonment with hard labour.
In a related case, 70-year-old Namalinda Josephy was charged with teaching witchcraft to a group of small children. The court learned that Josephy had the ability to transform herself by night into a black log or a big snake, and that she had done so in the presence of the children. Despite warnings from the police that she should admit the charges to get a more lenient sentence, Josephy denied the allegations. She was also sentenced to 30 months in prison.
In January this year, Tryson Jere, Mabvuto Jere and their wives Nyabanda and Nyachunga were accused of teaching 17 children witchcraft at night, and flying with them in a basket plane to South Africa and “within the local district to play football”. The group were charged with disorderly conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace, and are now awaiting trial.
These are just three of over 80 case-files compiled by the Association for Secular Humanism (ASH) in Malawi, where dozens of people have been jailed on imaginary evidence for the imaginary crime of “witchcraft”. Most are poor, elderly and from rural communities. ASH has campaigned successfully against efforts to recognise “witchcraft” as a crime. But some magistrates have been pursuing cases regardless, prosecuting people for an offence that isn’t even on the statute book. Others have been imprisoned for “pretending witchcraft”, or the catch-all crime of “disorderly conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace”. This despite the fact that Malawian law actually makes it a crime to accuse another person of being a witch.