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November 13, 2012

Witchcraft Related Deaths Are A Shame To Tanzania: What Is The Way Out?

Among the key man-courted problems in our society is one of witchcraft related deaths. The story of this kind of deaths does not make interesting reading but writing it is unavoidable, as the reality is that many lives of Tanzanians continue to be lost through beliefs and traditions which are not supposed to exist in the 21st century. We simply can’t wish the problem away, as doing so is not part of the solution.
This write-up has been inspired by frightening data, recently released by the Dar es Salaam based Legal and Human Rights Centre ( LHRC), in one of its reports on the human rights situation in the country.
The report being referred to reveals that over 1,400 people suspected of engaging in sorcery related activities were killed through mob justice between January 2010 and September 2012.
By the way, the above mentioned number does not include more than 60 compatriots with albinism condition, who lost their lives between 2007 and 2012, not because they were witchcraft suspects, but because their body parts happen to be highly valued by merciless witchcraft practitioners and their stone hearted as well as money thirsty clients.
Those who believe in witchcraft are deeply convinced that practitioners in this field possess natural super powers which can be used to harm and kill others, either in the interests of witches themselves, or in the interests of those they work for.
There is no evidence to prove or disapprove how witchcraft works, for the whole business is an attitude of mind, shrouded in secrecy, and represents idealism at its worst.
What is indisputable is that historically sorcerers, unlike genuine traditional medicine practitioners, were feared and hated. In most African communal settings proven witches were isolated or sent packing to far off places, as a way of checking their anti-social activities.
Killing them was a last resort, partly due to fearing the consequence of spilling blood in the name of solving a given social problem. You may say our grandfathers and grandmothers were guided by the saying that two wrongs don’t make a right.
It is unfortunate that today, when we have judicial systems in place to address cases of those who feel wronged by wayward members of society, the killing of the suspected witches is taking place at an alarming rate mentioned earlier in this column.
In some areas, especially those around Lake Victoria, old men and women who happen to have “yellow” eyes due to advanced age and keeping close to cooking places to get some warmth during cold evenings, are targeted for slaughter without being given a chance to present their side of the story.
Legal and human rights crusaders maintain that what is taking place in the name of fighting witchcraft is human rights violation at its worst. These and other people with a sense of justice, wonder why this sort of brutality is allowed in a country which calls itself an island of peace in the African continent.
It seems a big section of society is not upset by these actions. In fact, mob justice is apparently considered normal even in urban areas. It is common to see people in urban centres enjoying a scene of a young man suspected to have stolen a mobile phone being brutally beaten and set on fire in broad daylight.
Some of those who participate in the lynching spree never bother to find out whether the victims are really guilty or not. One wonders what has happened to our collective conscience.
Then you have this contradiction reflected in the fact that most of the witch hunters are the very people who clandestinely, and even openly, entertain all sorts of superstitious activities in their lives.
The argument that mob justice is resorted to simply because organs responsible for acceptable justice in society, namely police and the judiciary are not functioning properly is not, and should not be acceptable.
It is true the performance of both institutions leave much to be desired as the hydra-headed corruption bug which has poisoned the entire society, has affected them most.
Serious observers advocate for reform in these state organs and, in a way, the process is in progress.
As these reforms continue, the fight against mob justice must also be stepped up. This is the only approach which can help us to restore the country’s tainted reputation. We may as well try to figure out whether the new constitution on the drawing board may have a role to play in this affair.

Henry Muhanika is a media consultant.

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