By Francis Ngwa Niba
An article in The Star Newspaper, Swaziland, of May 15, 2013, reads; “Witches flying broomsticks in Swaziland above 150m will be subjected to arrest and a hefty fine of R500.000.”
Swazi Civil Aviation Authority Marketing and Corporate Affairs Director, Sabelo Diamini, said; “A witch on a broomstick should not fly above the 150m limit. Swazi brooms are apparently bundles of sticks used by Swazi witches to transport “portions” to the homesteads of their intended targets or victims.
Witchcraft is alive and thriving across Africa.
This video is shocking. Five elderly people are burnt to death by a marauding crowd in Nyamataro, Kisii, East of Kenya. They were accused of being witches. That happened four years ago but this shocking video is still online today and shows how sometimes people forget their humanity and behave like middle age barbarians.
Last Week May 20, BBC Three TV ran a documentary, “Branded a Witch,” that reignited the whole witchcraft debate again and we are left asking why the practice is still tolerated around the world in this day and age.
The narrator of the film is 23-year-old Kevani Kanda, mother of two and a London resident. She was born in the Congo DR and travelled to the UK when she was five. She is chosen to narrate the documentary after learning one of her cousins in Congo DR had been branded a witch and driven from home. “Branded a witch” is a record of the horrors children in the UK and Congo DR go through when their family members, including their own parents, accuse them of being “possessed” or who are supposedly practicing kindoki, the Congolese word for witchcraft.
The most “dramatic” part of the film is when a 5-year-old Congolese boy is forced to drink red oil in a pentecostal church in an attempt to exorcise him of the demons that have “possessed” him. He is, of course, branded a child witch. The young boy is beaten and cries miserably as the female pastor tries to get the demons out, chanting; “God, break the chains of Satan, demons, witch doctors, whether it comes from the mother’s or father’s side.” The young boy is accused of having a “telephone line” inside his body which he uses to communicate with other witches. The violent exorcism is to break the imaginary telephone line.
After the brutal treatment of the boy in church, he spends the next three days with no food and only a little water to complete his delivery. The pastor is paid for her services which tells us a lot why Kindoki is alive and kicking in the Congo DR and across many African countries.
Labelling Children Witches
According to UK-based child-focused charity, Stepping Stones Nigeria, there are five reasons why children are branded witches in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation. These are; religious profiterring, extreme poverty, disintergration of the extended family structure, ignorance and superstitious beliefs as well as broken marriages. Among other punitive measures, the charity claims suspected child witches are “taken to the forest and slaughtered, bathed in acid, poisoned to death, buried alive or chained and tortured in churches in order to extract confessions.”
The charity also blames the blossoming Nigerian home videos which “promote superstitious beliefs” on child witches. It blames one particular movie “End of the wicked” in which rampaging “witch” children cause widespread havoc in their homes and communities. This gives the wrong ideas to viewers who think branding children witches is normal, according to the charity.
These same reasons common in Nigeria are the same people in most Sub-Saharan countries, India and Papua New Guinea use to brand children and women, the least able members of society to defend themselves, witches.
Role of Pentecostal Churches in Targeting Children
Mama Lucy is the lead pastor in a small ramshackled pentecostal church in Kinshasa, capital of the Congo DR. She says it is easy to identify child witches.
“it is easy for me to identify a child that is a witch. Their eyes shine like a cat…it has a white colour. Another thing is that they have four eyes.”
In a Sky TV documentary, she is seen exorcising “demons” from little children who have been accused of being witches. She gets paid for her services, so, it’s easy to see why so many pentecostal pastors are exorcist. The impression is that personal gain is responsible for pastors identifying children as witches and blaming them for the unknown and unexpplained things that happen in life.
Witchcraft in Africa: Hard Facts
A 2010 Gallop poll in 18 Sub-Saharan countries indicated more than half of the population (55%) believe in witchcraft, which is shocking in itself. European countries mostly outlawed witchcraft in the 18th century, so, it is surprising a good number of Africans, including educated people, still belief in witchcraft today. Cameroon and Saudi Arabia are the only two countries on earth where witchcraft is on its official criminal law. Ghana has special witch camps where women suspected of witchcraft are exiled to. According to the Tanzanian Legal and Human Rights Centre, some 600 mostly elderly women were killed in Tanzania in 2011 alone, accused of being witches.
Albinos are people born with a congenital disorder, which means they cannot produce melanin that is responsible for skin pigmentation. They are targeted and killed in many countries across Africa in the false believe that their body parts are good as portions for witccraft. Sangomas or traditional healers in Southern Africa use their body parts as part of their rituals.
Time for Action is Now
Most African countries can help protect women and children by simply banning the practice and punishing anyone who acccuses another person of witchcraft. Most Europenan coutries did this two hundred years ago.
An estimated 20.000 children live on the streets of Kinshasa in the Congo DR as Kindoki continues to ruin their lives. Saudi Arabia is the only country on earth where people are executed for witchcraft. In June 2012, Muree Bin Ali Bin, a Saudi man, was executed for being a witch. Other countries in Africa, India and Papau New Guinea do not officially execute witches but mobs like the ones in Kisii Kenya, are still killing people for being witches.
Following the brutal murder of Kepari Leniata, a 20-year-old woman in Papua New Guinea, in February 2013, the UN sent a strong message to authorities of the Oceanic Island Nation. “We urge the government to put an end to these crimes and to bring perpetrators of attacks and killings to justice through thorough, prompt and impartial investigations in accordance with international law,” Cecile Pouilly, spokesperson for the Office of The High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, said. Leniata was burnt to death by relatives of a six-year-old girl she was alleged to have killed through witchcraft. A big crowd watched as she was being burnt to death because a large majority of the 7 million people of the Island nation still believe in witchcraft.
Amnesty International reported in 2009 that The Gambian government was delibrately supporting a campaign to fish out and poison suspected witches, most of them elderly people.
Bishop Dr Joe Aldred of the Pentecostal Churches Together in England in a Sky interview, says “ it is not for nothing that we have a word like witch-hunt in the English Language. Belief in witchcraft goes back centuries and it is universal.”
It is a crime in many countries now to accuse anybody of witchcraft but thousands of women and children in Africa, India and Papua New Guinea are still being branded, tortured and sometimes killed annually after they are accused of witchcraft. It is time to ban the practice in every single country on earth. This is a call to arms.
We asked some people in Nigeria and Cameroon if they believed in witchcraft. Their replies are intriguing.