Belief in witchcraft is common in many African communities. Pictured here are smoking pipes retrieved from a shrine in Kibuli, Kampala.
Belief in witchcraft is common in many African communities. Pictured here are smoking pipes retrieved from a shrine in Kibuli, Kampala.

The need to combat allegations of witchcraft, the attack and killing of alleged witches in Malawi has become quite urgent. The bloodletting linked to witchcraft allegations has become mind-boggling and must stop immediately. In the past years, humanists in Malawi have worked to address this problem, and bring an end to violence and abuses that are related to belief in witchcraft. Unfortunately the efforts of humanists have yielded limited positive outcomes. The campaign has not led to a total eradication of witch persecution and murder in the country.

In fact between December 2019 and January 2020, there have been reported cases of witch murder in districts across Malawi. In December, a mob stoned an alleged witch to death in Dedza district. She was accused of causing the death of a relative through magic. The alleged witch was attending the funeral of the late relative, and her presence annoyed other other attendees. According the media report, this relative was diagnosed of malaria at a local hospital. And the alleged witch had reportedly threatened that this relative would die for interfering in her marriage.

In Karonga district, three elderly persons have been murdered for practicing witchcraft. They were killed after a local ‘witch doctor’ confirmed that they were practicing black magic. While in Ntchisi, a mob lynched an elderly couple following accusations of witchcraft. According to the report, relatives accused the couple of teaching the children witchcraft. In fact it was reported that a child confessed that this couple taught him witchcraft and that their magical plane crashed on their way from Mozambique. This confession angered locals who eventually set them ablaze. Stories of magical planes are pervasive in Malawi. Witches supposedly use these magical planes to attend meetings in their covens in the neighbouring countries. The report further noted that in Malawi witchcraft is associated with curses and spells. Witchcraft is blamed for deaths, diseases and irregular rainfall.

In a related a case, an angry mob attacked and killed a 75-year old woman in Chitipa district. Relatives accused the elderly woman of causing the death of the grand child through witchcraft. The woman did not attend the burial ceremony of the deceased child. And relatives assumed that she stayed away from the ceremony because she was responsible for the death of the child.

While these cases highlighted the dark and destructive impact of witchcraft allegations, they also contained seeds of an effective advocacy against witch persecution in Malawi. First of all there is an urgent need for advocates for alleged witches throughout the country to become more visible and proactive. These advocates must act to ensure that what happened to alleged witches in the above mentioned cases would never happen again to any accused person in the country. The time has come to abandon this lame duck reactive approach and adopt some effective measures against this mindless violence. In pursuant to an effective advocacy for alleged witches, a line on the sand must be drawn to all village, community and district heads. There should be heavy penalties including suspension and summary dismissal for the head of any village, or district where an alleged witch is attacked or killed.

Effective advocacy is also predicated on education and enlightenment of witchcraft accusers and believers. As noted in the above cases, accusations of witchcraft are linked to misinterpretation of the causes of misfortunes such as death, sickness and irregular rainfall. A public enlightenment program is needed to provide rational, naturalistic and evidence based explanations of misfortunes. A reorientation program that targets communities and districts across Malawi has become necessary. Malawians must be told in very clear terms that witchcraft has no causal connection with death and diseases.

That witchcraft cannot be taught as widely believed, and as children often confess. That magic plane is a form of fantasy, an absurd idea that has no basis in reason, science and reality. Malawians should be made to understand that supposed ‘magic planes’ are fabrications by local priests and charlatans to deceive, instill fear and exploit the local population. ‘Witch planes’ have neither magical nor air plane capacities. Witchcraft accusers and believers in Malawi need help especially in getting them to abandon their mistaken ideas and misunderstanding of nature and the causes of misfortunes. Such an effective advocacy against witch persecution is necessary for the realization of a witch-hunting free Malawi.

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