News / Africa

Group Launches Campaign to Help Suspected Witches in Malawi

FILE - Malawi’s longest-serving witchcraft prisoner Ezereti Kampota walks to freedom from Maula Maximum Security Prison, in Lilongwe after the Association of Secular Humanism and its Executive Director George Thindwa became advocates for her release, May 31, 2011.
FILE - Malawi’s longest-serving witchcraft prisoner Ezereti Kampota walks to freedom from Maula Maximum Security Prison, in Lilongwe after the Association of Secular Humanism and its Executive Director George Thindwa became advocates for her release, May 31, 2011.
Lameck Masina
Malawi has no law outlawing witchcraft, and no legal definition of witchcraft, yet there is continuing persecution of those denounced as witches. 

Scores of people -- most of them women, children or the elderly -- have been imprisoned after being pressured or beaten into "confessing" they were involved in witchcraft.  However, a new public campaign is under way to help victims ward off such accusations.

The three-year campaign was recommended in a recent study about witchcraft in Malawi that showed the biggest problem is an increase in violence targeting suspected witches.

Sociologists from the University of Malawi and members of the Association of Secular Humanism in Malawi found that being labeled a witch brings violent consequences in nearly three-quarters of all cases.  Those consequences include beatings, other physical harassment or worse.

Once brutalized into confessing, suspected witches lose their property to vandals and thieves.  And after release from prison they are socially and psychologically ostracized.

There also have been cases where witch doctors -- traditional healers believed to have the power to identify witches and to exorcise evil spirits -- sexually abused female suspects under the pretext of "cleansing" them.

The government of Norway is funding the campaign to expose false accusations of witchcraft, and the Association of Secular Humanism is championing the program in 11 districts across Malawi.

“What we want to do is to sensitize people on witchcraft law, because people don’t know what the Witchcraft Act says.  As a result, they take the law in their own hands,” said George Thindwa, the association's executive director. 

Malawi has a Witchcraft Act dating back to 1911, but it states there is no such thing as witchcraft and makes it a punishable offense even to accuse anyone of being a witch.

Thindwa says the law and its intent are clear, but that does not stop traditional beliefs and fears from inspiring false charges against innocent people, and violent pressure to win so-called confessions.

“What actually happens is that they are forced to confess [by their accusers] because that is the only answer which the community wants to hear from them once they accuse them,” he said.

Thindwa contends the police foster violence against suspected witches by arresting people based on false allegations.

Police officials deny this. 

“For those people who have been arrested and convicted of practicing witchcraft, it means that they willfully admitted to be practicing witchcraft," said Kelvin Maigwa, deputy national spokesperson for Malawi's police. "But if the police fail to prove the case -- which is normally very difficult to prove -- that someone is practicing witchcraft, the magistrate has got the powers to turn that case into what we call ‘conduct likely to cause breach of peace.'"

Prison records indicate that as of mid-2011, more than 60 people were in jail after being convicted of witchcraft-related offenses.

The nation's secular humanists appealed to then-president Bingu wa Mutharika, who has since died, to grant an amnesty for anyone wrongfully convicted of witchcraft-related offenses.

“In fact, there is nobody now who is serving a sentence on witchcraft-related offenses.  We had to argue with the state president [to release them] because they received wrong sentences," Thindwa stated. "So all of them were released in May 2011, and the final group of two ladies were released on 21 December 2012.”

The just-completed study indicates that seven out of eight Malawians believe witches exist, and they reject the 1911 law as an unwanted inheritance from Britain, Malawi's former colonial ruler.
 
Kingsley Belo, a witchdoctor in Mbayani Township in Blantyre, asserts not only that witchcraft exists, but that witches have used their powers to kill people.

He says “I would wish if the laws on witchcraft were revisited, and the witchdoctors should be allowed to preside over or be state witnesses on cases involving witchcraft, because the existing laws are in conflict with reality."  Belo adds, "As witchdoctors we can have evidence that someone has killed another person through witchcraft, but he cannot be taken to court because there is no law against that, which means from he can continue killing other people.”

Thindwa says witchcraft does not exist, and he rejects the notion that witches can fly at night and use their powers to cause harm to others.

“And I wanted people to prove it [to] me.  I have gone forward and offered a MK 1 million prize [1 million Malawian kwacha, worth about $2,500] for anybody who can bewitch me," he said. "Unfortunately the prize has been there for the past three years and nothing has happened.”

Malawi's Law Commission is soliciting the general public's views on witchcraft before it decides whether to review the existing Witchcraft Act, or possibly even to make witchcraft a criminal offense.

You May Like

Report: $60 Billion Leaves Africa Illegally Each Year

Report by joint UN and African Union panel says African countries need to take concrete measures to stop illegal money flow from continent each year More

Video Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Some analysts say Russian Tu-95 bombers were flying near British airspace to warn Britain about an inquest into a murdered Russian spy More

Mugabe Defends Image Amid Controversy at Close of AU Summit

He rejects concerns about how the West might perceive his leadership, saying he's focused on African development More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relationsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
January 31, 2015 10:50 PM
Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a "mafia state." Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Spy Murder Probe Likely to Further Strain British-Russian Relations

Relations between Russia and the West are set to become even more strained amid an inquiry in London into the murder of a former Russian spy. Lawyers at the inquiry accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of directing a "mafia state." Meanwhile, Royal Air Force fighters intercepted Russian bombers close to British airspace this week, prompting authorities to summon Moscow’s ambassador. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Neighborhood Divided Over Conflict

People in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk districts find themselves squarely in the path of advancing Russian-backed rebels, who want to take back the territory they held at the beginning of the conflict last year. Many local residents are afraid, but others would welcome the change, even when a rebel shell lands in their neighborhood. From the Luhansk district, 15 kilometers from where the Ukrainian government marks the front line, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid