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

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid