Mugabe Passes Anti-Witchcraft Law

From the Harare Herald (via AllAfrica):

WITCHCRAFT practices will, with effect from July this year, be legally recognised in Zimbabwe following the amendment of some sections of the Witchcraft Suppression Act.

Until the amendment, it was a criminal offence to brand anyone a witch or wizard or to accuse someone of meddling in the supernatural, even where there was tangible evidence. In an interview yesterday, the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Cde Patrick Chinamasa, confirmed the amendment of Part VI of Chapter V of the Witchcraft Suppression Act, which will be implemented in the courts of law with effect from July 1, 2006. “Yes, the Witchcraft Suppression Act was amended and is now at the criminal courts. “Judicial officers are currently being trained so that they can easily implement it.

…”Any person who engages in any practice knowing that it is commonly associated with witchcraft, shall be guilty of engaging in a practice commonly associated with witchcraft if having the intention to cause harm to any person. “Such practice inspires in the person against whom it was directed, a real fear or belief that harm will occur to that person or any member of his or her family, and be liable to a fine not exceeding level ten or imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years or both,”…

Apparently the law has now been reworded to clarify that witchcraft that is not aimed at causing harm is allowable.

The law in fact addresses a serious problem. A recent report from over the border in South Africa provides a salient example of what can happen when someone claims to have a magical power to cause harm:

Hlalaleni Ndimande was hacked to death on April 2 at her home in the Umvuzane Reserve in Umbumbulu, in front of her three children, by her father, Mkhishelwa John Ndimande, 72, and her brother-in-law, Frederick Khethukuthula Njapha, 37.

The court was told last week that Hlalaleni had allegedly been practising witchcraft and that she had threatened family members with her “good muthi”.

However, in the case of Zimbabwe, Mugabe is in large part dealing with the symptoms of a society he has himself created. Way back in 1999, the Detroit Free Press spoke to traditional healers in the country, who observed that:

…the black-market demand for human body parts, which are used in making evil potions, has been soaring since the country’s economic decline started in 1997.

…”Witchcraft and tokoloshis [a kind of goblin] are making a comeback,” said Gordon Chavanduka, chairman of the 50,000-member Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association. “It’s obvious the cause is economic. The worse the economy gets, the more political tension there is in society, the more frustrated and frightened people get. They turn to witchcraft to gain riches or to hurt their enemies.”

A 2001 report in the Sunday Times adds that senior Zanu-PF members have a real fear of the supernatural:

Emmerson Mnangagwa, the much feared former head of the secret police and Mugabe’s designated successor, was visibly troubled when he went on television last week to discuss recent setbacks, including the deaths of two ministers in separate road accidents.

“We don’t know what is hitting us,” he lamented. “It’s not natural. Something else must be happening.”

A regional leader of the ruling Zanu-PF party went further, saying: “We fear the hand of Lucifer is at work.”

…Although Mugabe is notionally a Catholic, he has increasingly fallen back on the tribal religions that many Zimbabweans combine to a greater or lesser degree with Christianity.

…many of Mugabe’s rural supporters belong to the Va Pastori church, whose followers proclaim a brand of Christianity but are frequently caught up in witchcraft rituals.

On the other hand, it has also been reported that

President Mugabe has refused to meet with leaders of some native African churches outside the traditional mainline denominations for several years because he suspects them of being subversive.

Mugabe has also himself invoked the supernatural. In 2002 he made a dire warning about the forthcoming election:

“EVEN IF I DIE, I will turn in my grave if the MDC wins the presidential election. Let me warn you that even goblins will be unleashed on you if Morgan Tsvangirai wins.”

For what it’s worth, WND carries the claim that Mugabe once “staged a witchcraft ceremony asking for rain” during which he claimed to be possessed by the spirit of “Murenga”; accusations of occult interests also appear on some evangelical Christian websites.

Using witchcraft for harm is not just illegal in parts of Africa. Writing in British pagan magazine White Dragon, Barry Walker warns that when it comes to casting spells against someone

…you have to be very careful about choosing a single person as your target, forget all that bad karma stuff, you could end up in Court as actions you take might be interpreted as, “Threatening Behaviour” if your target found out what you were doing… It would be too easy for things to get out of control real fast which could result in people finding them looking at the sharp end of British Justice. Because of the risks involved I would not advise these type of actions being taken.

The last trial for witchcraft in the UK took place in 1944, although the prosecution couched its case in terms of the person “pretending” to have a supernatural power. The law under which she was prosecuted was repealed in 1951.