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– by Raphael Mweninguwe
In January 2016, four elderly women in the southern region of Malawi were murdered by a raging mob on suspicion that they were involved in the death of 17-year-old Flora Kanjete. The girl had died some days earlier, having been struck by lightning. Superstitious villagers suspected the four old ladies of having made that happen.
Nowadays, people all over Malawi accuse some elderly person of witchcraft when a relative dies. Many Malawians still believe that death cannot be natural; even a cardiac arrest is considered to result from witchcraft.
The psychologist Chiwoza Bandawe says that the “belief in supernatural powers” is strong in Malawi. In his eyes, however, the killings of supposed witches are also an expression “of frustration because of the socioeconomic challenges people face”. When people identify with a group and move in it, he explains, they lose their sense of individuality and may do things they would not do on their own.
Contemporary witch hunts have shocked the nation. President Peter Mutharika has condemned such acts as “senseless victimisation of elderly people” and announced the government will deal with perpetrators.
The Malawi Law Society President John Suzi-Banda describes the killings on suspicion of witchcraft as “senseless and heinous”. He adds that such barbaric acts stain “our collective conscience and have got absolutely no place in a civilised society”. However, some self-proclaimed witchdoctors are compounding problems. They claim that they are able to “bewitch” others.
The Malawi Network of Older Persons’ Organisations (Manepo) states the law is clear on witchcraft, and there was no reason why many elderly people in this country should have been murdered. Mary Shaba of the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare says a policy to protect the elderly will be enforced.
Raphael Mweninguwe is a freelance journalist based in Malawi.