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

Multimedia Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid