Sorcery and witchcraft in Zim

HARARE - Unlike the British-American Harry Potter books and film series that paint witchcraft with a rainbow brush, the practice is widely frowned upon in Zimbabwe.

Disapproval for the practise is so widespread that “witch hunters” — believed to have been making a killing duping local villagers — last week attracted Cabinet wrath, with local traditional healers calling for regularisation of the trade.

Commonly known as tsikamutandas, witch hunters woke up to a sternly-worded statement from Cabinet last week penned by the minister of Information, Christopher Mushohwe, warning them to stop the “repugnant extortionist practice.”

The cautionary statement came after widespread reports of tsikamutandas cashing-in from hapless villagers seeking to be freed from the bondage of witchcraft.

Traditionally, the practice of witch hunting has always been there in most local cultures, with the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association (Zinatha) director general, George Kandiero, telling the Daily News on Sunday that genuine hunters had helped many societies curb witchcraft cases.
Witchcraft — or black magic — is still as popular as it is controversial in modern day Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe lifted a ban on the practice of witchcraft in 2006, repealing legislation dating back to colonial rule.

The government now acknowledges that supernatural powers exist — but prohibits the use of magic to cause someone harm. The law effectively legitimises many practices of traditional healers.

These include rolling bones to foretell the future, divination, attempts to communicate with the dead, using muti — traditional powders and fetishes — to ensure the desired sex of a child.

But there will be some legal grey areas, like whether it is legal for a husband to place some charms in his bedroom — charms that may injure his wife if she is unfaithful.

For a country that has received reports of women sprinkling menstrual blood into their significant other’s food and bizarre stories of goblins, the Cabinet statement came as a surprise.

“In its meeting on Monday, November 28, Cabinet reached a decision pronouncing the perennially reported rampant activities of ‘witch hunters’ widely known as tsikamutandas as criminal, fraudulent and extortionist…,” Mushohwe said.

The minister also pointed out that government had tasked Rural Development minister, Abednico Ncube, to ensure that the practice was “immediately brought to an end countrywide” with the help of law enforcement agencies and traditional leaders.

Mushohwe said most tsikamutandas — believed to be demanding cash, livestock, maize, wives and children in some cases — were misrepresenting to communities that government had permitted them to “carry out this illegal activity.”

However, the Zinatha head said as long as government did not gazette a piece of legislation outlawing the practice or put in place efforts to regularise the industry, most tsikamutandas were going to continue with their business.

“What we are saying as Zinatha is we are also aware of culprits masquerading as tsikamutandas duping innocent Zimbabweans.

“But trying to get rid of the practice will not stop it entirely, so we feel there should be dialogue between us with the judiciary and Parliament to map a way forward, because there are some people who say they have been helped by these people,” Kandiero said.

Tsikamutandas have reportedly set up permanent bases in stressed rural areas where several families have been impoverished after paying several fees to appease the hunters.

They first establish relationships with the local leadership who then convince villagers that they (tsikamutandas) could solve their social and economic problems.

When granted the nod to operate in the area, the tsikamutandas force villagers to undergo a number of traditional cleansing ceremonies and consultations with alleged ancestors.

After undergoing the rituals in which the alleged ancestor then speaks to the victim from behind a curtain in a room, one is often implicated in witchcraft, ngozi, possessing goblins among other social ills.

The suspected witch, wizard or wrongdoer and the one whose homestead would have been cleansed are then asked to pay for the services, usually in the form of livestock and cash.

They “uncover” voodoo dolls and horns with beads among other paraphernalia associated with sorcery, which they claim are used by women to eat their children, men to bewitch their neighbours and cast spells on their neighbours.

Apostolic Churches Council of Zimbabwe (ACCZ) president Johannes Ndanga said tsikamutandas needed to be prosecuted and banned.

“We have been actively helping government to get rid of tsikamutandas mostly because they are forcing their beliefs on people… It is also strange that most of them thrive during droughts, taking food and livestock from innocent, starving villagers…

“Some of them are even taking away people’s wives and children as payment for services rendered. At the end of the day, this kind of behaviour needs to be stopped,” Ndanga said.

Zimbabwe has been wallowing in an economic recession with analysts projecting negative growth for the coming year.

And from breeding dogs for sale to selling grilled pig genitals, Zimbabweans are doing anything to get their hands on the greenback, in a country with an unemployment rate of over 80 percent.

Harare-based economist Issis Mwale said it was not surprising that tsikamutandas were taking the country by storm as most people are desperate for income-generating ventures.

“It is an unorthodox way of getting money, but given the present unemployment rate, not surprising at all.

“What’s surprising however, is that Cabinet, an entire Cabinet, would dedicate effort to this mess. Economic growth projections are being revised downwards, investment going down, demonstrations are all over the place and an unpopular currency is being introduced, yet a Cabinet dedicates itself to hunting witch hunters?,” Mwale said.

A recent World Bank report indicates that most Zimbabwean households are surviving on less than $1 a day; and most locals blame and accuse relatives for their misfortune.

The legendary fact about juju in Zimbabwe is that it is believed that people go for charms to enable them acquire wealth or for protection from their enemies or tragic incidents.

This comes as MDC Matabeleland South senator, Sithembile Mlotshwa, recently asked government to explain measures being taken to defend traditional religion as part of preservation of culture, lobbying parliament to allow witchcraft to coexist with Christianity.

“Witches are there, that is a fact, in fact the way I view it, tsikamutandas must also come to towns because witches are also there in towns.

“The problem is people just think this is a rural thing but it is not. We are fully aware that crooks are claiming to be tsikamutandas and just feel government needs to regularise the trade.” 

Last month, a tsikamutanda in the Nyamajura area of Odzi allegedly abducted and locked up a school head girl in his lodgings, forcing her to skip a national ‘‘O’’Level examination paper.

Another one in Mt Darwin made way with 195 head of cattle over a two-month period as the self-styled witch hunter claimed he had power to weed out troublesome witches after which he made them pay in livestock — mainly cattle and goats.

After receiving the livestock, the tsikamutanda sold the cattle for about $400 per beast.

According to The Pew Research Centre Survey, conducted in 2010, a quarter of Zimbabweans believe in witchcraft, even though they are deeply religious.

Zimbabweans were ranked among the most religious people, with nine in every 10 people stating that religion plays an important role in their lives.

In spite of the strong belief in one God, heaven and hell, the survey found that sub-Saharan Africa, leads in the worship of witchcraft, evil spirits, and sacrifices to ancestors, traditional religious healers and reincarnation.

Pew Research Centre ranked Zimbabwe number 15 in Africa in the belief in witchcraft, a few points behind the Democratic Republic of Congo, and way ahead of Ethiopia, Nigeria, Zambia and Rwanda.

“A quarter of Zimbabwean, both Christians and Muslims, confessed they believe in the protective power of juju (charms or amulets) and that they consult traditional healers,” the report said.

A number admitted to revering their dead ancestors and treasuring animal skins and skulls or knowing of friends or relatives who identify with these faiths.

“…All these things point to the fact that there is indeed a tradition of witchcraft and while government is right to be concerned about the issue, it just makes more sense to regularise the trade because trying to ban it is just going to lead to worse consequences,” Kandiero said.

Comments (1)

Let s not forget mushrooming church leaders also swindling their naive followers .

Cde Mzvinavhu(Prof) - 5 December 2016

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