Features

When suspected of being a witch

THE feature film “I Am Not a Witch” by Zambian-Welsh director Rungano Nyoni, who visited witch camps in Zambia and Ghana satirises sorcery in modern-day Zambia. PICTURE: HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

CHAMBO NG’UNI, Kabwe
IN WRITING and directing the award-winning feature film “I am Not a Witch”, Rungano Nyoni, the Zambian-Welsh director says she visited witch camps in Zambia and Ghana.
The feature film is about a nine-year-old girl who is accused of witchcraft and exiled to a witch camp under the threat that if she escapes she will be turned into a goat.
“There is nothing extraordinary about witch camps,” says Ms Nyoni. “They are like normal villages but populated by older women. They have the women working on the land and doing everyday activities.”
When Ms Nyoni thinks of a sequel to “I am Not a Witch”, she should probably consider visiting the Central Province.
Unlike in her film, where the nine-year-old Maggie Mulubwa, acting as Shula, is the suspected witch, in Central Province, it is the elderly people who are being suspected of practicing witchcraft.
In 2016, police in the province recorded 23 cases of elderly people aged between 50 and 75 being killed on grounds of being witches and wizards.
According to police in the province, 18 of those victims were killed by relatives. For the others, they could not establish who killed them.
Kabwe district recorded five cases while Mumbwa and Mkushi had four cases each with Kapiri Mposhi registering three. Serenje district had two cases while Luano had one.
In 2017, 14 victims aged between 53 and 88 were killed with five of them at the hands of their own relatives while the seven others were by unknown people.
Again, Serenje district recorded five cases while Mumbwa had three with Kapiri Mposhi and Chisamba having two each. Mkushi had one case.
Most of these cases are happening in rural areas where beliefs of witchcraft are very strong.
With the help of witch finders or sometimes on just mere suspicion, old people are accused of practicing witchcraft.
Suspected witches and wizards are hacked, shot to death or poisoned in certain scenarios.
“Most of these murder cases have a similar pattern and we need to understand these patterns and engage the community,” says Joel Njase, the Central Province commissioner of police.
For instance, Jean Bangwe, 80, of Serenje was buried alive on suspicion of practicing witchcraft.
Sometime in March last year, Aaron Ngosa, 48, Kelvin Mwelwa, 28, and Lyson Kunda, 53, were hired by Ms Bangwe’s family members to kill her.
They picked her up from her village and went with her to the bush where they dug a grave in which they buried her. Thereafter, they returned to the village where they triumphantly announced that they had dealt with her.
The results of the post-mortem indicated that Ms Bangwe died as a result of suffocation after she was buried alive.
In her community, Ms Bangwe was never known to practice witchcraft until her nephew Oscar Musonda consulted a witch finder about the cause of his illness.
The witch finder alleged that Ms Bangwe was a witch and she was also responsible for his illness.
Mr Musonda called for a family meeting and Ms Bangwe was ordered to cure him since she had ‘confessed’ of being responsible for his sickness.
But some members of the family wanted her dead. They are the ones who hired Mr Ngosa, Mr Mwelwa and Mr Kunda to kill her with a promise of a reward if they succeeded.
The police, however, arrested the three and charged them with murder.
The Kabwe High Court in January this year convicted the three of murder and sentenced them to death.
Mr Njase says police records so far show that it is only Ms Bangwe who has been buried alive for allegedly practicing witchcraft.
“It’s unfortunate that these things are happening,” Mr Njase says. “Under such circumstances, people take the law into their own hands.”
Mr Njase says it is unacceptable that only elderly people are the ones being accused of practicing witchcraft and some are killed.
In another case in Serenje that happened on May 20 last year, Alex Chilufya convinced his friend Lazarous Kumbi to kill his 82-year-old mother Elena Chiti on suspicion that she was practicing witchcraft.
Mr Chilufya had promised to give Mr Kumbi K600 if they succeeded in killing his mother. They succeeded and fled but were caught and arrested.
But Mr Njase says when a person reports a case of witchcraft, they need to investigate the case. Unfortunately, police lack the appropriate tools to investigate death attributed to witchcraft because it is associated with magical skills and abilities.
And in most cases, people who also witness the killing of those accused of witchcraft, normally decide not to act as witnesses.
Without witnesses, perpetrators evade the law.
“We are encouraging people to report to police because next time it will be them because they are getting old, and we need to correct these wrongs,” Mr Njase says.
Further, he warns that witch finders risk being arrested as accomplices if the person they accuse of practicing witchcraft is murdered.
Judge-in-charge at the Kabwe High Court Charles Zulu says cases of grannicide [death of grannies] associated with witchcraft suspicions are a source of concern in Central Province.
“Among the murder cases, there is a noticeable wide spread type of murder commonly called grannicide,” Justice Zulu noted when he opened the criminal session in January.
“In the Zambian context, it means killing of the elderly [persons] perceived to be witches and wizards. Such killings are usually preceded by despicable brutality, torture and inhuman treatment.”
Some traditional leaders are also concerned at the rise in grannicide cases.
“As traditional leaders, we discourage people from killing those they suspect of practicing witchcraft,” Chief Chibale of Serenje, who is a member of the House of Chiefs, says. “Police are the ones mandated to investigate and prosecute cases of murder”.

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