PHALOMBE, MALAWI - A dry spell in parts of southern Malawi has rekindled accusations of witchcraft and bouts of mob violence. Authorities have been quick to condemn the attacks and dispel the accusations as a hoax.
January 29, 2018, is a day that will be hard for Aidah Waisoni to forget. She is a resident of Nthambula village in Malawi’s southern Phalombe district.
"We were about to take our supper when we saw a mob of armed young men approaching my house," she said. She feared for her life and immediately ran out into the bush. From there, she says she saw the mob set fire to several houses.
Waisoni is among eight villagers targeted that day over accusations they were withholding rains through magic. Police say there have been similar rumors circulating in other parts of the district, but no other violence.
The villagers say the area has been without rain since December. Crops have wilted, raising fears of hunger.
A mob ransacked the home of 76-year-old traditional leader Jameson Maideni.
"I am surprised with the accusations because my maize garden has wilted because of the drought," he said. "How could I withhold the rains and leave myself with nothing to eat?"
The latest figures from the Ministry of Agriculture show that more than 700,000 farmers are expected to lose 40 percent of their harvests this year because of low rainfall. Farmers are advised to plant early maturing varieties should the rains come.
Police say they have arrested six people in connection with the attack as the hunt continues for others who fled to neighboring Mozambique.
Spokesperson for Phalombe police station, Innocent Moses, told VOA their preliminary investigations reveal the violence is related to unresolved chieftancy wrangles. He says members of the community are taking advantage of the drought and local superstitions.
Phalombe is the same district that saw seven people killed by angry mobs last year over rumors of alleged vampires attacking residents.
The village of Nthambula bears the same name as its group headman.
"There were no blood suckers then and there is no one who is withholding rains now," he said. "These are just tricks used to steal other people’s property."
Meanwhile, the director of the Meteorological Department in Malawi, Jolam Nkhokwe, explains the reason for the drought.
“Because the high pressure system has been sitting over the region, southern Africa, including the southern part of Malawi, and that has been preventing any development of clouds,” he said.
He told VOA the high pressure system has begun to dissipate and as a result some affected areas have already started receiving rains.