Michael Trapido
Michael Trapido

Make witchcraft a criminal offence

An 81-year-old woman in KwaKwiliza near Mtubatuba in KwaZulu-Natal was stabbed 50 times and had her throat slit because her neighbour accused her of being a witch. According to the police he was of the belief that the elderly woman had killed two members of his family members through using witchcraft.

Captain Jabulani Mdletshe said that the police were called to the scene but the man had already escaped.

This incident, one of thousands that have taken place down the years, should give us reason to pause and consider whether the time has not arrived to make witchcraft a criminal offence.

The basis therefore is not based upon religious conviction but rather the very real need to give people access to the law before they murder any more innocent people. The only alternative being the introduction of the death penalty for any party who commits murder based upon the premise that the victim is a witch.

While there will no doubt be an uproar regarding the limitation of religious freedom in South Africa, something entrenched in the Constitution, there appears to be a deafening silence every time people branded as witches are horrendously slaughtered.

When Mpumalanga tried to introduce the Witchcraft Suppression Bill of 2007 they were met with fierce resistance. “The purpose of the bill is to suppress Acts of witchcraft including naming and pointing of any body as a wizard or witch. To deal with the violence associated with allegations of witchcraft and deal with killings including ritual killing associated with witchcraft and empowering Traditional leaders to deal with Witchcraft aspects.”

It defines witchcraft as: The secret use of muti, zombies, spells, spirits, magic powders, water, mixtures, etc by any person with the purpose of causing harm, damage, sickness to others or their property.

“Self-defined Witches have rejected this definition on the grounds that it stereotypes witchcraft as harmful and portrays Witches as a danger to the communities within which they live and work. The proposed definition will merely serve to justify public fear of witchcraft and promote malice and violence against suspected witches.” (Wikipedia)

The problem is that a huge number of South Africans believe in witchcraft and the ability of witches to occasion deadly consequences for those that cross them. That is not going to go away.

Neither is the fact that once a “victim of witchcraft” believes that they are under attack then the party whom they consider to be the witch is in deadly danger. If they are lucky enough to be identified thought may be given to putting them into some kind of witness protection programme.

Unfortunately very few are that lucky.

Anyone can be “sniffed” out as a witch and then has the misfortune of a visit like the one described above awaiting them.

So until such time as someone can put forward a better suggestion for protecting people accused of witchcraft — and not the current law which makes it an offence to call someone a witch — legislation to make it a criminal offence to be a witch seems to be the only answer. In tandem that anyone now possessed of this legal channel to accuse witches, who practices self-help, be given the stiffest possible sentences available to a court faced with that charge.

Denying some form of religious freedom is very ugly but what happened to an 81-year-old woman and many others like her is far uglier.