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Witch lynchings in Africa

July 2, 2009

Recently, BBC News ran an article about a journalist witnessed a witch lynching in Kenya. In many countries all over the world, witchcraft is considered to have a bad connotation. Originally used to heal people, it is sometimes used to inflict harm or damage on someone and/or a community.

Whether or not there is good witchcraft or bad witchcraft, some people in Africa are accused of practicing witchcraft become accosted by their peers: they are physically and sexually assaulted, sometimes resulting in death. When this happens to many people in one community, it is called a witch lynching. Recently, there have been a high number of reported lynchings in many parts of Africa. Police and government do not know how to handle the situation—and many believe that this is a result of a corrupt government.

“This happens all of the time”

Odhiambo Joseph, the BBC news journalist who witnessed a witch lynching in Kisii, Kenya, wrote about what he saw:

I had been visiting relatives in a nearby town, when I heard what was happening. I dashed to the scene, accompanied by a village elder.

He reacted as if what we were watching was quite normal, which was shocking for me.

As a stranger I felt I had no choice but to stand by and watch. My fear was that if I showed any sign of disapproval, or made any false move, the angry mob could turn on me.

Not one person was protesting or trying to stop the killing.

Hours later, the police came and removed the charred bodies.

Joseph Ondieki, at the grave of his mother, who was burned as a witch

Joseph Ondieki, at the grave of his mother, who was burned as a witch in Kisii, Kenya

Joseph was in shock with what he saw. Village youths took part in the killings, and when asked why they killed so many people (including a young boy), they said that all of these people had to be killed and “Of course some people have been burned. But there is proof of witchcraft.”

The village elder was dismissive of Joseph’s horror of the witch lynchings, and said that this happens all of the time.

“A lynching isn’t a manifestation of disorder. It is a protest against disorder.”

Witch lynchings occur in Mozambique as well. Back in late 2006 and early 2007, a crowd of 300 people killed two brothers in a suburb of Maputo, in which one was accused of sexually assaulting women. The police do not have the ability to deal with the lynchings. Custodio Duma, an attorney for the Mozambique League of Human Rights says that “What normally happens is people drag criminals to the police, but the police don’t do anything. The criminals pay off the police and the police let them go: it’s a question of corruption” (click here for more info about this witch lynching).

Let’s remember the Salem Witch Trials.

How does an outsider from a foreign country, such as myself, think about witch lynchings that continue to happen in Africa? When I think of “witches,” I think of the Wizard of Oz. A pasttime that seems so far removed from anything I have known, I wonder why mass killings happen in underdeveloped countries where “accusing” someone of witchcraft–in one case, a little boy was walking around a town in Kisii and couldn’t talk to anyone except a “witch,” (later it was found out that this boy had epilepsy)–is acceptable. How can this stop?

One Comment
  1. July 2, 2009 2:32 pm

    Witch-hunts happen sporadically in South Africa as well.

    Read ‘A Pagan Witches TouchStone’

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