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Malawi’s struggle with deadly witchcraft

#Malawis #struggle #deadly #witchcraft

The still air that envelops Lupembe, a sleepy village on the sandy shores of Lake Malawi, hides a dark secret.

On December 26, 2019, a mob, fueled by rumors of sorcery, hunted down and lynched a grieving family.

The killings are among dozens of witchcraft killings that have rocked the South African country and prompted talks of a dramatic change in colonial-era rumor-spreading laws.

“Hundreds of villagers stormed our house from all directions and started attacking me, my brother and my parents,” Walinaye Mwanguphiri, 36, told AFP.

Mwanguphiri said he escaped happily, but his parents and brother and an aunt were killed.

Belief in witchcraft is almost as widespread in the South African country as its poverty – according to World Bank data almost three-quarters of the people live on less than two dollars a day.

Since 2019, the mob has killed at least 75 people suspected of dark magic, says the Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), an NGO based in the capital Lilongwe.

Just last week, local media reported that residents of Dedza, central Malawi, murdered the village chief on suspicion that he used sorcery to murder his nephew.

In 2017, the United Nations was forced to withdraw its staff from southern Malawi after at least seven people were killed when rumors of vampires swept the region.

– ‘Recognize’ magic –

Last December, a special commission tasked with drafting legislative proposals to solve the problem concluded that the best way around the problem was to acknowledge that magic is real.

Malawi’s current laws assume that witchcraft does not exist. According to a law devised during British colonial rule, it is a crime to accuse someone of witchcraft.

But since most Malawians believe in magic, the commission suggested it would be better to acknowledge the existence of sorcery – and make its practice a crime.

“People’s beliefs cannot be suppressed by law,” wrote retired Supreme Court Justice Robert Chinangwa, who headed the commission, in his findings.

“The Commission therefore recommends recognizing the existence of witchcraft and notes that the law must criminalize all practices of witchcraft.”

CHRR Director Michael Kaiyatsa says criminalizing witchcraft could discourage people from taking the law into their own hands to punish suspected wizards.

But securing convictions could prove difficult, he said.

“Witchcraft… isn’t something you can see or prove,” he said.

His group says murders fueled by rumors have rarely led to arrests and prosecutions.

She brands this as a law enforcement failure that has fueled a climate of impunity and fueled violence. It calls for more action to bring murderers to justice.

– Story of a Survivor –

AFP this month visited Lupembe, which lies on a sandy shore of Lake Malawi near the border with Tanzania, some 550 kilometers (350 miles) north of Lilongwe.

Externally, the village of 700 souls showed little of the bloody episode of the recent past.

Men frolicked on a beach in the morning sun, waiting for an overnight catch of sardines to dry while women washed dishes and clothes.

Inside his thatched house, Mwanguphiri, the survivor, stuttered with emotion as he recounted his ordeal and how he felt living among his family’s killers today.

The family, he said, had gathered at the village cemetery to bury his cousin’s son, who died after a short illness.

Then the mob rushed them.

They “accused us of killing him by witchcraft,” he said.

Mwanguphiri said he managed to force his way through the crowd and ran from the village for his life, leaving behind his elderly parents and brother, who were beaten to death.

“I survived by a hair’s breadth,” he said.

The crowd destroyed his home, his brother’s and his aunt’s before dissipating, he said.

Police officers rounded up some villagers but later released them, he said.

Police did not respond to a request for comment.

To this day, Mwanguphiri does not know what sparked the deadly rumours.

After a year’s absence, he returned to Lupembe, where he now takes care of his brother’s five orphans.

“Although it’s hard for us to live here after what happened, we have no choice because this is the only home we know,” he said.

“We have nowhere else to go.”

Social Tags:
#Malawis #struggle #deadly #witchcraft

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