The Malawi Law Commission (MLC) has said the Witchcraft Act’s failure to define witchcraft makes it difficult to protect vulnerable people such as the elderly from abuse.
The development has prompted MLC Commissioner Mathew Theu to suggest that the Act be reviewed.
Making a presentation during the National Consultative Workshop on the Review of the Witchcraft Act held in Lilongwe yesterday, he said the Act had gaps.
“The commission found that there is no universal meaning of the word ‘witchcraft,” Theu said.
Commissioners suggest that witchcraft should be defined as “a supernatural art, use of magic practiced within the spiritual realm or in secret in words or deeds for purposes of causing harm to a person or damage to property or death or misfortune or to incite fear or violence”.
Another commissioner, Wezi Kayira, said MLC recommends that there be a change of the Witchcraft Act scheme to recognise the belief of witchcraft in order to align the scheme of legislation pertaining to witchcraft with the socio-cultural values and beliefs of Malawi society.
Kayira also said there was need “to provide the local courts with the jurisdiction to hear matters on witchcraft in order to improve access to justice pertaining to witchcraft matters”.
The commission also proposes that rules of evidence which ordinarily apply in making determinations on criminal matters should apply to witchcraft matters.
MLC Chairperson Justice Robert Chinangwa (retired) indicated that there were two schools of thought, one of which backs the existence of witchcraft while the other dispels such a notion.
He, however, said their findings show that the majority of Malawians believe in witchcraft.
Chinangwa, therefore, said there was need to legislate the belief to protect those accused as well as those who claim to be witches or wizards.
“My understanding is that the present laws may not be adequate to cover this particular aspect in our country,” he said.
However, some of the participants said only parliamentarians could change provisions of the Act.
Mathews Kasanda is a journalist who holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from University of Malawi (The Polytechnic).
In 2015, Media Institute of Southern Africa awarded him the Best Print Media Education Journalist of the Year accolade.
He joined Times Group Newsroom in September 2019.