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Malawi Grapples With Recurring Problem: Mob Attacks on Accused Vampires

FILE - Angry villagers in Phalombe district destroyed this house in 2018 after accusing its owners of withholding rains through magic. The existence of vampires is another common superstition in Malawi. (Lameck Masina/VOA)

Malawian officials are taking steps to stop a new wave of mob attacks on people accused of being vampires. Officials say five people were killed in attacks in three separate areas last month. Similar attacks killed nine people in 2017. The government is reminding the public that vampires do not exist, and police are arresting those accused of spreading false information.

Local media reported Tuesday that police in the northern district of Nkhata-Bay used tear gas to disperse a mob which attacked workers from the National Statistical Office as they were conducting a survey in the area.

Police say the mob accused the researchers of being vampires, as their work involved the collection of blood samples of participants.

Rumors of vampires sucking people’s blood started in early February and have spread to six districts in central and northern Malawi.

Some residents believe the vampires use modern technology and magic to immobilize victims late at night with a chemical, and then drain their blood before disappearing.

This has prompted some residents like Agnes Zimba to sleep in groups outside their houses for safety.

“We fear we can have our blood sucked if we sleep alone in our houses. We are even failing to go to our gardens for fear of being attacked by vampires there,” Zimba said.

Local authorities believe the rumors originated from neighboring Zambia.

In some areas, the rumor has led to a rise in vigilante groups mounting ad hoc roadblocks and searching vehicles.

On Monday of last week, three medical workers were attacked in the central district of Mchinji for carrying medical equipment that could be used to take blood samples.

Last Saturday, two people including an aide to a traditional leader were killed in the Kasungu district for allegedly hiding accused vampires.

Mobs killed three others last month in attacks in the central Dowa district and Mzimba district in the north.

Malawi police spokesperson James Kadadzera told VOA that rumors of vampires are a hoax. He also said police are cracking down on those involved in the vigilante attacks.

“As I am talking to you, 37 people have been arrested and they will answer for murder, others for assaults and others of malicious damage,” Kadadzera said.

Rumors about vampires also erupted in 2017 in southern Malawi, triggering mob attacks that caused the deaths of nine people.

Malawian President Peter Mutharika helped to stop those attacks after visiting the affected areas and ordering police to arrest anyone spreading rumors.

Mark Botomani, a government spokesperson, told VOA the government has no plans to send out the president this time around.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to take the head of state to visit the areas for people to know that this is not right. So, we don’t have such programs at the moment. As you know, the head of state is also restricting himself from moving around because of the situation we have now, the coronavirus,” he said.

Botomani said the government will instead try to persuade people not to believe false information.