Culture, Africa

Zambia: Murders of elderly accused of witchcraft rise

Elderly often targeted because they are considered an economic burden by relatives

31.01.2017
Zambia: Murders of elderly accused of witchcraft rise file photo

By Francis Maingaila 


LUSAKA, Zambia

Veronica Sulwe's 80-year-old grandmother was murdered on Jan. 15 by her grandson in Chingola Town, in the northern Copperbelt province of Zambia, after being accused of causing the death of her great-grandchild by using witchcraft.

Veronica, 29, tells Anadolu Agency that she was brutally beaten and later set on fire after a "witch-finder" designated her to be responsible for the sickness and death of her grandchild’s son.

"Following a consultation with the witch doctor who accused my grandmother that she was responsible for the death of a child, the young man brutally attacked her,” she recounts.

"At about ‪‪2.30 in the middle of the night, I heard the young man shouting at the top of his voice, it's your turn to die, you witch," a neighbor to the victim, Pearson Bwalya tells Anadolu Agency.

"Out of curiosity, my wife and I woke up to see what was happening, only to find the old lady laying in her own blood and with burns on her body," he adds.

According to Bwalya, the victim had come to the village to visit her grandson.

"Unfortunately, during her stay at the grandchild's house, he developed an ailment which led to his death and the old lady was blamed for it," he says.


Increase of killings


Zambian Human Rights Commission chairman Mudford Mwandenga has recently warned of the increase of brutal killings of elderly people accused of practicing witchcraft in Zambia, adding recent murders were beginning to raise awareness in the country.


"The latest murder of an 80-year-old woman on the Copperbelt is one of the many cases the country has recorded where elderly people are killed by close relatives after being accused of witchcraft," he said.

"The killings of older people on allegations of witchcraft are steadily rising despite various awareness campaigns. As a commission, we are urging law enforcement agencies to take serious efforts to not only to protect these innocent souls but to find a solution to this growing problem."

According to a January report from the Zambian police, in a span of three months, at least 25 elderly people accused of practicing witchcraft have been killed across the country.

"The number of elderly persons killed could be higher than this, save that many cases, especially those that happen in rural areas where witch-hunts are rife, are not reported to authorities," Deputy Inspector General of Police, Eugene Sibote tells Anadolu Agency in a telephone interview.

"
Allegations of witchcraft in Zambia can be very dangerous. Misfortunes of this sort are used to stigmatize people accused of being witches," an academician from the University of Zambia, (UNZA), Beyani Choolwe tells Anadolu Agency.

"What led to the murder of an old lady is witch-hunt, which has taken place in Zambia since times immemorial," Choolwe adds.


Family disputes

Choolwe explains that witch-hunts are mostly motivated by "family disputes".

"The belief in witchcraft is deeply rooted in many ethnic groups across Zambia and whenever a misfortune strikes, including loss of a life, someone is blamed for it," he says. "This belief cuts across all classes of society, the rich and poor, the educated and the uneducated, and the young and the old."

Maxwell Lufungulo, former lecturer at the School of Humanities and Natural Sciences at UNZA, suggested there was a general belief among tribes in Zambia that children do not just die.

“When a child dies, the affected family will consult a witch finder to establish the cause. Elderly persons are identified randomly and those found with red eyes are named witches,” he says.

He further blames the lack of education and poor health services, as well paganism, that force people to consult witch doctors to establish causes of death.

An April 2016 article in the Global Press Journal citing a government official said elderly people were often targeted because they were considered an economic burden by relatives.

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