Rooted in superstitions

PUBLIC AWARENESS—A poster advertising services of a witchdoctor
captured in Blantyre

Belief in witchcraft, magic and superstition reigns supreme among Malawians, which could shed light on why, in one extreme case, people with albinism are being hunted like wild animals in the so-called Warm Heart of Africa. The other extreme case is where some members of society are willing to sacrifice their children and blood relations in the hope of doing better economically. In this edition of Times Friday Shaker, JAMESON CHAUKUKA brings to light the extent to which some Malawians are willing to sail with the tide of superstitious beliefs.

The story starts with a misplaced phone call— a case of someone dialing the wrong number— from some witchdoctor to this reporter at exactly 7pm on May 8 2019.

He said he was done preparing snakes the person he mistook for the reporter had asked for.


“I am Doctor Kanyoza. You said you wanted two snakes which we use for stealing money without leaving a trail. I called to report that the snakes are ready and I can bring them to you any time tomorrow if you send me money for fuel.

“As I said, they cost K40,000 each but all I need is money for fuel. I will get my payment for the service later,” he said.

Shocked, the reporter feigned interest in the deal as he asked for more information from Doctor Kanyoza.


“Are you sure I will really be rich? How effective are these snakes?” I queried.

“You send them wherever you want. When they come back, they vomit everything they took on their mission. I am in Mulanje District right now but I will be going to Mzuzu City on the same assignment anytime soon. Tell me when you are ready,” he said.

Surely, beliefs can make people go to the extreme, in part due to deep-rooted poverty.

MUOTCHA— Even some rich people believe in

However, psychologist Moses Muotcha said issues of superstition go beyond poverty.

“Even some rich people believe in rituals; they want to use magical powers to increase their chances of being lucky.

“It comes down to our beliefs. It is a matter of reinforcing one’s belief and determination that you will make it. If you believe in charms you have taken from a witchdoctor, you are bound to work harder than you normally do. Some witchdoctors tell you to stop sleeping around, unnecessary spending and other lifestyles which, even without the charms, can make you prosper,” he said.

Talking of the extent to which people can go to score a goal past poverty, the issue of attacks targeted at people with albinism comes to mind almost immediately.

People with albinism continue to be hunted and killed like wild animals since their bones are believed to have magical powers that can turn one into an instant millionaire.

Speaking during this year’s commemorations of World Albinism Awareness Day in Chiradzulu District, Association of People with Albinism in Malawi President, Ian Simbota, was, again, on the neck of witchdoctors.

He said most of the people being caught perpetrating violence against people with albinism claim that they are misled by traditional doctors.

“People with albinism are living in fear because traditional doctors have too much freedom in the country. You find them hanging bones and dead snakes on their benches in our markets. What for? Even if the bones are not necessarily of persons with albinism, where do they come from?” he queried.

Witchdoctors, on the other hand, have been vehemently distancing themselves from atrocities committed against people with albinism but fingers continue to point their way.

A number of cases involving the abduction and killing of people with albinism linger in the country’s courts but the fight against the vice is far from over.

The High Court sitting in Phalombe District this year sentenced a man and his wife to life and 25 years imprisonment, respectively, for taking part in the murder of their child with albinism.

Humphrey Elia, 29, and Mary Nankhuku, 43— both from Lungazi Village, Traditional Authority Jenala—we r e convicted of murdering 12-year-old Joseph Kachingwe during last year’s district Independence Day celebrations at Kotamu Trading Centre.

High Court Judge Sylvester Kalembera described the couple as a threat to society, saying they deserved stiff penalties.

Again, in May, the High Court sitting in Thyolo District sentenced to death 28-year-old Willard Mikaele for murdering Mphatso Pensulo, a 19-year-old boy with albinism, in January 2017.

The plight of people with albinism aside, some Malawians have been exhibiting exceptional courage by invading graveyards to unlawfully exhume dead babies, as well as clothes buried with them, for rituals, thereby flouting provisions of Section 129 of the Penal Code.

“Every person who…offers any indignity to any human corpse…shall be guilty of a misdemeanor,” reads Section of 129 of the Penal Code in part.

True to that, in February this year, the Zomba Chief Resident Magistrate Court sentenced 28-year-old James Majawa of Mbuwambuwa Village, T/ Authority Nsamala, in Balaka District to 10 years imprisonment with hard labour for being found in possession of a dead body of a newborn baby.

Majawa, who was arrested in a Central East African Railways train heading to Nayuchi border from Balaka District, told the police that he was taking the dead body to a witchdoctor in Mozambique for rituals.


During the hearing, Eastern Region Public Prosecutor, Christopher Katani, told the court that passengers in the train got disturbed by a pungent smell that was emanating from the bag which contained remains of a child.

Majawa was later convicted on his own plea on all the three counts of trespassing in a graveyard, unlawful exhumation of human corpse and unlawful dealing in human tissue.

Just when Malawians thought such cases were declining, a medical worker at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Daily Times that he has been approached a number of times by people asking for placentas, especially those of twin babies.

“There was this other man, for example, who was good looking and working class who approached me. At first, I thought he was joking. I told him I could not do that and that it was not possible to do that even if I wanted to,” he said.

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