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Beaten to death or burnt … Untouchable witches in Malawi

In Malawi, this quiet country in southern Africa, witch hunt is not common, but the invocation of ancient beliefs makes a number of women find themselves ostracized from their villages and subjected to abuse if they are not executed, despite the state’s efforts to change mentalities in the countryside .

In a report by Margot Pin, the French newspaper Le Figaro reviews some of these mindsets, how some women have become outcast witches and how their lives have turned into hell.

The writer starts from the story of Annie Mvola (60 years old), who says while swinging with great difficulty the stairs leading to her house, “If I had really magical powers, I would fly straight to the door of my house,” indicating that no one would dare approach her to help other than her brother Saidi. Always there for me. He is the only one, “says the old woman.

Annie was a quiet widow. About 10 years ago, she suffered from the worst social stigma in her country, after becoming accused in little Zalirana of being a village witch.

The beginning of her story, as she recounts, was surprised by a loud noise while she was resting near her house, “I saw a crowd heading directly towards me, and the crowd of villagers began throwing stones at me, shouting insults and threats.” She barely escaped after she holed up in her house and called the police, saying in the language of Chichiwa prevalent in the country, “Sometimes I panic, and tell myself that it will start again, and that the neighbors will attack me all.”

The author warns that Annie’s story is similar to many in this country called the “warm heart of Africa” ​​because of the legendary kindness of its people. According to the Al-Aid Charitable Foundation in 2016, Malawians ranked the sixth most “kinder” nation. Yet a seemingly calm and peaceful society harbors treasures of violence and cruelty that primarily target women.

The vast majority of people in Malawi believe in witchcraft, and “when we go to the countryside to try to educate the public about the illegality of extrajudicial executions, people accuse us of being witches,” says Wonderful McCucci, head of the Malawi humanitarian NGO solely concerned with the subject.

The stories are strangely similar, as most of the accused are women, often elderly and physically disabled. “I have a problem in my hands and legs, and that’s why I think they attacked me,” says Annie, whose limbs appear to be paralyzed. Accusing someone with witchcraft can also be an appropriate way to get rid of an enemy or strong woman. Saidi says, “I am an educated and intelligent woman. The farm earned money. She taught me everything. Lots of people envy her. “

A witch is a danger to little ones

A stone’s throw from Annie, Elizabeth (30 years old) who came to shelter in Zalirana after she ran away from her house a few kilometers away, and the reason is that her husband provided her with a lifestyle much better than that of other village women, and she knows how to read and write, and thus she was accused By teaching children spells, she narrowly escaped death.

Not far from here, Blessing, 35, who participated in the attack on Annie and threw rocks at the police who came to rescue her, walks with her baby on her back among the fields, and says, “I was scared for my children. Witches are a danger to the little ones.”

Belsing says she changed her mind, admits, “There has been no accident in the village, nor (there are) bewitched children. I tell myself that if Annie had really had the powers, there would have been something.”

Judges and police who believe in magic

Thoko Chikundi, a photographer who lives in the economic capital of Blantyre, recalls that her maternal grandmother was accused of practicing witchcraft, as “all her children died except for my mother, and her neighbors thought it was fishy,” and she does not forget that night when her older sister was hurriedly sent to return to the city with her grandmother in secret. From the village, where the next day she was scheduled to be “tried by the village council and then probably executed.”

Often – as the photographer says – “witches” are beaten to death or their lives are burned, their homes are ransacked and then set on fire, and because “women are the guarantors of the domestic sphere, they are blamed whenever something happens to the children” and this is also the reason for Annie’s accusation Elizabeth and many women enchant children or teach them magic.

Although the Witchcraft Act passed in 1911, during the British colonialism, stipulates that the supposed superpowers are not crimes, many “witches” and some “witches” are imprisoned on false charges, because “some judges and the police believe in witchcraft,” says Zenderville Mkhouchi Sorry.

However, keeping these people in prison is also a way to protect them – as this activist sees it – and their cells constitute a refuge for them, especially since in the absence of care facilities for the elderly and the handicapped, the responsibility for caring for them falls on the shoulders of families, while those accused of witchcraft become outcasts.

Organ trafficking

Annie Mvola may be lucky, as she was able to return to live with her brother – as the writer says – but many other grandmothers did not have the same reception, however human rights advocates in Malawi are trying to mediate between the authorities and relatives of the convicts, so that the “witches” may be released. However, this process may take 5 years.

Although allegations of witchcraft can infuriate the village, “witch doctors” are popular with businessmen and politicians who pay generously for doses they believe may bring prosperity.

In January, two Irish aid workers who run a clinic for albinism called on their government to pressure Malawian authorities after kidnapping one of their patients and cutting his body for witchcraft.

“The trafficking of human organs and body parts is very common in Malawi, as they are the essential parts of mysterious rituals,” said Henry Mango, an investigative journalist in the capital, Lilongwe, who has investigated the issue for a long time.

He says that the difficulty of eradicating this phenomenon increases because few village chiefs and other “religious leaders” are ready to change their mentality, as the former head of the village of Annie led the crowd to her home, and the priest might say to one of his followers if he complained of long unemployment or illness “that he is old Your witch is in your village. You must destroy her. “

Since the end of 2020, lawyers, traditional leaders, and other members of civil society have been working to amend the Witchcraft Law, particularly to criminalize the accusation of witchcraft by religious authorities.

In 2005, Matthew Theo, Chair of the Law Review Committee, reported the results of a rare study the commission had conducted on Malay beliefs, finding that the vast majority of respondents said they believed “witches can become invisible, fly in the air in magic baskets, and wander at night.” Topless in the villages. “

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