Wichcraft Belief in Malawi Sparks Violence

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A Malawian man, with help from the Norwegian government, has initiated a three-year program to eradiate violence against suspected witches in that country.

George Thindwa, executive director of the Association of Secular Humanism in Malawi, has made it his mission to stamp out witch persecutions in his country by launching a public education campaign against belief in magic and witches.

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According to a piece in Malawi’s Nyasa Times,

Thindwa said in 2011 his organization and the department of sociology at Chancellor College conducted a survey where it was discovered that many people, especially the elderly, were subjected to various forms of violence on suspicions that they were practicing witchcraft. “Many people especially women and the elderly have lost life and property on suspicions that they are practicing witchcraft. And in most cases there was no evidence to prove that they were really practicing witchcraft,” said Thindwa.  

The three-year project will be implemented in nearly a dozen districts throughout Malawi, focused on protecting children, women, and the elderly, who are often targeted as practitioners (or associates of practitioners) of black magic. According to a 2008 survey, 3/4 of Malawian households reported knowing of witches in their community, and nearly 2/3 said they knew someone who had been accused of practicing witchcraft.

And it’s not just Malawi: A 2010 Gallup poll found that throughout 18 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, 55 percent of those polled believe in witchcraft. For many Africans belief in black magic is considered part of everyday life. In Africa, witch doctors are consulted not only for healing diseases, but also for placing (or removing) magic curses or bringing luck—much like many psychics and fortunetellers in America.

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Belief in witchcraft can have other horrific consequences as well: In the East African countries of Tanzania and Burundi not far from Malawi, at least 50 albinos were murdered for their body parts in 2009 according to a Red Cross report titled “Through Albino Eyes.” An albino’s arms, fingers, genitals, ears, and blood are highly prized on the black market, believed to bestow magical powers. In November of that year, four people were arrested and sentenced to death in northern Tanzania for killing an albino man to harvest his body parts. A month earlier, albino hunters beheaded a ten-year-old boy and hacked off his leg.

The belief and practice of using body parts for magical ritual or benefit is called muti. Muti murders are particularly brutal, with knives and machetes used to cut and hack off limbs, breasts, and other body parts from their living victims. Many of the albinos were beheaded, their heads carefully collected and preserved as gruesome good luck charms or for use in rituals. The Red Cross report claims that up to 10,000 African albinos live in hiding, fearful of being attacked for their body parts. The persecution, murder, and mutilation of innocent people is a powerful reminder of the dangers of believing in magic and witchcraft.