On witch-hunting, minorities
Murders which are taking place in Mulanje following rumours about some individuals sucking blood of other people are part of witch-hunting. This is killing of innocent people by first accusing them of witchcraft.
Incidents of this type have taken place many times in the distant past and recent days. Such occasions are best explained with assistance of social psychology.
This is the psychology that studies the behaviour of communities, crowd or nations instead of individuals. In most cases, there is conflict simmering or suppressed which suddenly erupts by finding scapegoats.
Towards the end of the year 1969, three persons were murdered in the Chilobwe housing estate of Blantyre; 27 more people were similarly murdered. Henceforth, they were called Chilobwe murders though they took place in several other parts of Blantyre.
Rumours moved fast to the effect that the murders were being ordered by president Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda who was collecting blood of the victims and sending to the South African government to repay the loan the South African government had granted him to build the new capital of Malawi in Lilongwe.
Dr Banda whenever confronted by a stupid situation would say “Don’t waste your time with the stupid people” the time he found it necessary to stand before the microphone and denounce the allegations as unfounded.
Communal vigilantes were formed in the locations of Blantyre. A young man called Kawisa from Machinga and who was employed by a well-known bakery in Blantyre was seized in the course of trying to kill yet another innocent person.
Kawisa was tried by the traditional court and sentenced to death and hanged.
But was he alone responsible for those 30 murders? This we could not find out.
T h e strangest and most agonizing witch-hunt I have ever read about happened in the British colony of Massachusetts in 1692.
There in the small town of Salem an extraordinary situation arose when a few girls secret play triggered a mass of hysteria. The nine-year-old daughter of a Minister of Religion called Samuel Parris, his niece Abigal Williams and several of their friends started barking like dogs. They were suspected of having been bewitched.
The girls pointed at a West Indian slave woman with a very African name Tutuba and two other residence of Salem Sarah Oborne as the witches who had cast spells on them. There followed a frenzy of accusations.
The accused were tried before a judge who ignored the British Penal Code and simply followed the Old Testament Command not to spare a witch. Of the more than 200 accused, more of them women, 100 were jailed and 19 were hanged.
The witch-hunt came to an abrupt end when in October 1692, the girls nabbed Lady Mary Phips, wife of the governor as one of the witches. On October 29 1692, Governor Phips cancelled all scheduled trials and proclaimed pardon for the accused.
Five years later on January 15, 1697, the citizens of Massachusetts held a day of fasting and repentance to honour those who had suffered and died. In 1711, the same curt annulled the convictions and granted compensation to all the surviving accused.
The poll conducted by one of our daily newspapers on how voting would be done in Parliament found that while Malawi Congress Party and People’s Party members said they would support the 50+1 presidential election formula, members of Democratic Progressive Party said they had not made up their minds while others said they would be guided by the caucus.
Voting on this issue should be treated as a miniature referendum. Voters should be guided by what is good for the nation not their party. Voting should be done by secret ballot.
If Malawi is to continue being a happy and contented republic, it should avoid divisions based on the privileged and the underprivileged. The present system which makes it possible for someone to be elected president just because his own tribe or religion has overwhelmingly voted for him has created grievances among minority regions or tribes.
Before independence of Nigeria and the Cameroon citizen of British Cameroon were asked to vote in a referendum whether they wanted to remain with Nigeria or to reunite with French Cameroon. The northern part of British Cameroon voted to be part of Nigeria while the southern part preferred to reunite with French Cameroon. Not long after the former British Cameroonian found themselves a minority, the majority French speaking were treating them as second-class citizens. Now some of them went to secede and become independent.
Spain is on the verge of another civil war because of the determination of Catalonians to secede and become an independent state. The English are still anxious about Scotland. The secessions of Catalonia and Scotland will have harmful influence on the minorities found in other European countries such as Germany, Italy, Finland and etc. These secessions might encourage minority regions and tribes of Africa to intensify their campaigns to secede.
If we, in Malawi, want to avoid minority-versus-majority problems of this nature, let us avoid creating classes of the privileged and the underprivileged. To be in Spain at the moment is to be in pain.
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