Malawi Police warned against backing suspected witches

Police officers in Malawi’s central district of Dedza have been warned of unspecified action should they continue giving too much clemency to people suspected of practicing witchcraft.

Angry community leaders and villagers Wednesday took turns lambasting the law enforcers of failing their duties for treating witchcraft related cases with kid gloves.

The leaders and community members claimed witchcraft practices were spreading widely and yet the police were doing nothing to check it.

According to Laws of Malawi, the Witchcraft Act of 1919 (currently under review) does not recognise witchcraft and instead it says the one who accuses someone for practicing witchcraft should be arrested.

Thindwa posing with the two "witches" freed from jail. Liviness Elifala, 51 and her friend Margaret Jackson who looks 70 of Lodzanyama village, Traditional Authority Ntema in Lilongwe
Thindwa posing with the two “witches” freed from jail. Liviness Elifala, 51 and her friend Margaret Jackson who looks 70 of Lodzanyama village, Traditional Authority Ntema in Lilongwe

But ignorant of the laws, traditional leaders from the area of T/A Kachindamoto in the district, accused the police of being corrupt for failing to bring to book people those teaching their children witchcraft.

“Our children are failing to go to school because they wake up very weak. They complain of not sleep as they are trained in witchcraft during the night. Isn’t that a violation of their right to education?” charged one of the leaders Group Village Headman Kakhome.

This was during a sensitisation meeting on gender-based violence organised by Dedza District Social Welfare Office and attended by several players including the law enforcers.

The meeting was conducted as part of a three-year project called Gender Equity and Women Empowerment (GEWE), which is aimed at reducing gender based violence and is being funded by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and European Union (EU).

The chief alleged that several young children in his area were being initiated in witchcraft but the tutors were just lazing around due to police ineffectiveness.

He added: “We wondered why the police are always hesitant to lockup these witchcraft tutors.”

The meeting momentarily turned messy with boos when Imraan Matonga, a police prosecutor from Ntakataka Police, tried to defend the police and heaped the blame on the country’s laws.

“As police we work according to the laws of Malawi. In this case the penal code in Malawi does not recognise witchcraft,” he explained to the displeasure of gathering.

Dedza District Social Welfare Officer, Gladstone Kachali, said the 1919 Witchcraft Act is aimed at protecting vulnerable people, particularly the elderly who are mostly targeted of witchcraft charges.

Malawi Witchcraft Act states there is no such thing as witchcraft and makes it a punishable offense even to accuse anyone of being a witch.

Sociologists from the University of Malawi and members of the Association of Secular Humanism in Malawi found that being labeled a witch brings violent consequences in nearly three-quarters of all cases.  Those consequences include beatings, other physical harassment or worse.

The government of Norway is funding the campaign to expose false accusations of witchcraft, and the Association of Secular Humanism is championing the program in 11 districts across Malawi.

George Thindwa, the association’s executive director argues that witchcraft does not exist, and he rejects the notion that witches can fly at night and use their powers to cause harm to others.

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