Through extensive interviews with a number of individuals, including victims, former practitioners of witchcraft, and witchfinders, MakanDay has established that the belief in the power of witchcraft persists in many parts of Eastern Province, alongside a profound faith in the capabilities of witchdoctors.
Stories of civil servants fleeing public institutions due to witchcraft victimisation and individuals seeking the services of witchdoctors in hopes of sudden wealth are not uncommon. MakanDay sheds light on the disturbing tales of individuals who have been affected by witchfinding practices in the eastern region.
In March of this year, Ndeketeya Phiri, a self-proclaimed witch doctor, was arrested and charged with practicing witchcraft. He allegedly mutilated a woman, Lashiwe Munshanga, and her unborn child during a failed attempt to bring them riches. Similarly, in June, Thomas Lungu was arrested in Chipata for giving a substantial sum of Constituency Development Fund (CDF) money to a witch doctor, who promised to multiply it but failed.
While Mrs. Mushanga and Mr. Lungu were fortunate to survive their encounters with witchdoctors, others like Chenjelani Zulu, a 35-year-old man from Mkwekwe Village in Chipata, were not as lucky. Mr. Zulu was brutally killed by his nephew after being accused of bewitching his stepmother in August this year.
Neighbouring Malawi has also experienced witchcraft-related violence, with 75 people suspected of practicing witchcraft killed between 2019 and July 2022, according to the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), a non-governmental organisation.
Although there are no official statistics on witchfinding victims in Eastern Province, stories of the practice persist, openly conducted in many villages. To eradicate alleged witches and wizards from their communities, witch hunting or finding practices continue, often authorised by local chiefs and at the request of villagers. Unfortunately, these practices persist despite the Witchcraft Act's explicit prohibition.
Section three of the Act prohibits anyone from naming, indicating or accusing or threatening to accuse any person as a wizard or witch.
The Tales of Victims
Victims of witchcraft accusations often face banishment from their villages or chiefdoms, but the punishment can escalate to severe and unbearable levels. One victim, Jenipher Tembo, a 76-year-old widow, recounted a horrifying experience when her blouse and bra were forcibly removed in public during a witch finding ritual. Her ordeal left her traumatised, and she shared her story in hopes of raising awareness and ending the practice.
In September 2022, Ms. Tembo was one of seven people accused of practicing witchcraft during a witch finding session in Chief Chikuwe's area in Chipata. Her helplessness and humiliation were evident as she described the ritual, which involved body cutting and tattooing. Ms. Tembo was accused of causing the deaths of her three children, allegations she vehemently denied.
John Zulu, a 32-year-old man from Chieftainess Mwanjawanthu's area in Chipata, also endured a life-altering accusation of using witchcraft to amass wealth. He recounted being accused of various absurd acts, such as having supernatural relations with his in-laws, using magic to steal crops, and spying on people's nakedness. Mr. Zulu's life was shattered, and his reputation tarnished as he was subjected to public humiliation.
Revealing Secrets by a Former Witchfinder
Kennedy Masaka, a former witch finder from Malawi, disclosed the deceptive practices used during witch findings. He revealed that many charms purportedly found were actually fabricated by him and his team. Often, personal vendettas led him to accuse innocent individuals, causing them great harm and suffering.
Mr. Masaka ultimately abandoned the practice when a family turned the tables on him, accusing his own mother of witchcraft. His mother's humiliation and the subsequent suicide attempt prompted him to seek employment in Zambia. He called for an end to witch finding, emphasising the need for awareness and change.
Call for Action
Victims like Ms. Tembo, Mr. Zulu, and Mr. Masaka, along with the Catholic Church, are advocating for an end to witchfinding practices. Chipata Diocese Auxiliary Bishop Gabriel Msipu Phiri condemned witchfinding as a scheme by con artists to make quick money, especially when villagers have resources after crop harvests. He urged churches, chiefs, and the police to take a strong stance against this dehumanising practice.
Caritas Chipata Good Governance Coordinator John Mthaziko Zulu highlighted the miserable lives and mental anguish experienced by those accused of witchcraft. He commended Senior Chief Nzamane for opposing the practice and called on other chiefs to follow suit.
Despite the mixed stance among chiefs, the Witchcraft Act strictly prohibits their involvement in permitting, promoting, or facilitating witch finding practices. However, enforcement remains a challenge.
Eastern Province Police Commissioner Limpo Liwali emphasised the need for greater awareness of the Witchcraft Act among the public. He argued that witchfinding was often motivated by extortion and disproportionately targeted the elderly and financially stable individuals.
Human Rights Commission Provincial Senior Investigations Officer Winston Nunkwe underscored the severity of the issue, noting the immense physical and psychological torture victims endured. He called for more media coverage and public awareness campaigns to combat the practice.
Anderson Zulu, a 79-year-old witness, acknowledged the complexity of the issue and the fear of retaliation faced by victims. He highlighted the need for chiefs to comprehend the necessity of ending witch finding, particularly with the immense power wielded by witchdoctors.
The urgency of addressing this issue and enforcing existing laws against witchcraft accusations is underscored by the calls for action from victims, religious leaders, and advocates. Advocates emphasise the crucial need for public awareness and education regarding the Witchcraft Act as essential steps toward eradicating this deplorable practice.