MAPUTO, MOZAMBIQUE - Last week, police in Mozambique warned bald men in the country to be vigilant, after at least two such men were killed for the use of their body parts in witchcraft rituals.
According to local experts, widespread poverty is as much to blame for the killings as mystical belief.
Sociologist Book Sambo, who lectures at Mozambique's Eduardo Mondlane University, said the attacks must be seen in a context where people are desperate to improve their lives, and willing to use "magic" in hopes of changing their luck.
"This should not be seen as isolated from our social problems — the low level of education, people with socio-economic difficulties ... the difficulty of getting a job," he said in an interview with VOA's Portuguese to Africa Service.
Police issued their warning after arresting two suspects in connection with the deaths of two bald men in Zambezia province. One of the victims was decapitated and both were mutilated.
According to police, the suspects said they killed the men so traditional healers — critics call them witch doctors — could use their organs for rituals that supposedly bring prosperity to the healers' clients.
"Their motivations come from superstition and culture as the local community thinks bald men are rich and that their parts can be used to enrich others," said police spokesman Inacio Dina.
Three other bald men were reportedly killed this month in the Morrumbala district of Zambezia, although police have yet to directly link those deaths to witchcraft.
Healers association denies involvement
The leader of an association of traditional healers, Fernando Mate, told VOA Portuguese that members of his organization do not kill bald men in order to perform rituals.
But Mate said he could not guarantee others might take such action. "People take chances to gain some money," he said.
Until recently, albinos were the primary group targeted by hunters hoping to profit from witchcraft — or, more accurately, the widespread belief in it.
A United Nations expert said last year that local activists had recorded more than 100 attacks on albinos in Mozambique since 2014, and that the real number was likely higher. People lacking pigment in their skin, eyes and hair are often attacked in Tanzania, Malawi and other African countries for the same reason.
Groups such as Human Rights Watch have pressured governments in the region to crack down on crime rings and witch doctors believed to be behind the killings.