Home Opinion Featured Articles End Witchcraft-related Murder in South Africa

End Witchcraft-related Murder in South Africa

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The Advocacy for Alleged Witches urges the South African government to do more to end witchcraft accusations, witch persecution, and killing in the country. The statement has become necessary following two reported cases of witch-killing this November. A South African Newspaper, The Citizen, reported on November 16, 2023, the case of an elderly woman who was murdered for witchcraft in Muswani village in Malamulele in Limpopo. A 35-year-old man accused her, hit her with a stone and she died. And on Friday, November 10, another tragic incident occurred.

An alleged witch was shot and killed in Mpumalanga. In this case, the suspect handed himself over to the police. As the report says, the police intervened in both cases and the suspects would be charged in court.

The Advocacy for Alleged Witches condemns the brutal murder of the two alleged witches within a short period.

The South African government should rise to the occasion and ensure that this ugly incident does not happen again. But much needs to change before witch killing can stop in South Africa. First, there has to be a shift in outlook and mindset. The belief in the efficacy of witchcraft remains strong in the country. It is unfortunate that early in this 21st century, South Africans still attribute their misfortunes to harmful magic. The South African government should take measures to educate and enlighten the people and reason them out of this misconception and superstition. The public education campaign should be taken to the villages and rural communities, to provinces such as Limpopo where witch persecution often takes place. Public enlightenment programs will help weaken the grip of witchcraft belief in the minds of the people.

The programs will make people unwilling to commit atrocities in the name of witchcraft imaginaries. But the public awareness programs will remain ineffective if local healers such as the Sangoma do not cease sanctioning and sanctifying witchcraft cosmologies. These traditional healers use witchcraft narratives to make sense of people’s existential problems and challenges. And they need to be held to account.

It is important to note that many people in South Africa and beyond attack and murder alleged witches because they believe, or better are made to believe that their misfortunes have been caused by witches in their families and communities.

Traditional healers, diviners, spiritualists, and ‘experts’ in the occult tell them that witches are responsible for their problems. Traditional healers exploit desperate gullible folks who come to them with their problems. Instead of providing evidence-based advice and suggestions or referring them to agencies and institutions where they could get real help and solutions, these charlatans get them to blame their problems on witches and turn the people into witch-killing machines. In addition to prosecuting the suspects, the government should endeavor to charge, prosecute, and punish traditional healers implicated in these horrific crimes.

Furthermore, these cases have shown that the police often arrive after the harm has been done, the accused persons have been killed. This trend is unfortunate and has to change. On many occasions, police intervention comes too little too late to save lives. Knowing that witchcraft accusation is a form of death sentence, the government should step up police presence in places and provinces such as Limpopo that are notorious for witchcraft accusations, witch persecution, and killing. The authorities should understand that lives of alleged witches matter. Increased policing in these high-risk communities would send a positive signal and help dissuade and deter witchcraft suspecters and accusers from taking laws into their own hands.

In addition, the government of South Africa should take steps to protect elderly people in the country. As these cases have shown, older persons are vulnerable and are often the target. People tend to suspect, attack, or kill them. The state should provide care and protection to older persons who live in high-risk areas. The Advocacy for Alleged Witches welcomes the Older Persons Amendment Bill and the proposal to strengthen the protection, and prevent the abuse of older persons. As contained in the bill, the government of South Africa should eliminate harmful traditional practices, including witchcraft accusations against older persons in the region.

Leo Igwe directs the Advocacy for Alleged Witches, that works and campaigns to end witch hunting in Africa.

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