Monday, February 20, 2012

Yet again, ignorance and superstition become deadly

I've written before about belief in witchcraft in Africa and elsewhere. It's hit the news again, with tragic and fatal consequences to a number of people. From Nepal, the Telegraph reports:

A mob burned alive a 40-year-old woman on Friday after accusing her of casting black magic spells in a remote village in southern Nepal, police said.

Dengani Mahato died after she was severely beaten, doused in kerosene and set alight for allegedly practising witchcraft, Gopal Bhandari, a superintendent of police in Chitwan district, said.

"Nine people started to beat her after a local shaman pointed the finger at her over the death of a boy a year ago," the officer said.

"They accused her of having hands in the death of the boy, who had drowned in a river."

Bhandari said the shaman and the nine locals suspected of taking part in the crime had been arrested on suspicion of murder.

. . .

Hundreds of lower-caste women are thought to suffer abuse at the hands of "witch hunters" every year in Nepal, where superstition and caste-based discrimination remain rife and where most communities still operate on strict patriarchal lines.

Human rights campaigners say the perpetrators of such crimes are rarely brought to justice.

There's more at the link.

It looks like the same old, same old in South Africa as well. IOL reports:

The KwaZulu-Natal provincial executive council on Thursday. expressed concerns over the “growing trend” of elderly people killed on suspicion that they were witches.

“We call on our people never to use suspicion of witchcraft as an excuse to commit murder. Any attack is not acceptable,” said Premier Zweli Mkhize after a meeting of the council.

The cabinet was reacting to recent incidents where people – mostly the elderly – were killed for allegedly being witches.

Last month in Lindelani Elsa Dubazane, 62, burnt to death in a mud shack while her husband Raphael Zulu, who had managed to escape the burning shack, was “necklaced” a few metres away.

The couple had been accused by residents of witchcraft. Eleven suspects have been arrested for this crime.

More recently, 50-year-old Masisi Mhlongo, Fanelesibonge Ntuli, 6 and Amahle Nxumalo, 5, were burnt to death inside their home in Maphumulo, near Stanger.

Police were still investigating the deaths as some have suspected foul play.

According to some reports, it is believed that Mhlongo could have been attacked as she was accused of being a witch.

King Goodwill Zwelithini also strongly condemned these killings. Speaking at the commemoration of the Battle of Isandlwana, the king lamented the silence of the human rights activists and that of government on these matters.

Ndabe Sibiya, the spokesman for the premier, said the provincial government was responding to the calls by the king and would be stepping up awareness programmes aimed at educating the general public about the welfare of the elderly.

“We have to ensure that people understand ageing as a natural process and not as a problem.”

Sibiya said some of the programmes by the Premier’s Office would be to create awareness on Alzheimer’s dementia,” because in some communities the mental disorder is wrongly associated with witchcraft”.

Again, more at the link, plus a subsequent report about the accused being arraigned in court.

The tragic reality is that belief in witchcraft is so deep-rooted in more primitive cultures that it's almost impossible to eradicate. As I've described before, (relatively) sophisticated African businessmen, university graduates all, will still buy their 'muti' (witchdoctor-prepared 'medicine') every morning in order to 'ensure' a successful day at work (and sometimes to 'ensure' a bad one for their rivals). You can explain until you're blue in the face that there's no factual foundation to witchcraft whatsoever, only to have its adherents shake their heads in genuine pity at your 'spiritual blindness'. After all, they'll think to themselves, the 'evidence' of witchcraft is all around us. How can you possibly fail to recognize it for what it is? That bolt of lightning has nothing to do with electricity - it's the gods fighting, or an ancestor communicating his anger that you haven't sacrificed to his spirit lately, or an evil spell cast on you by an enemy so that the lighting will attack you! How can you not see it?

Such credulity isn't limited to the Third World, either. Remember the Lithuanian debt collector who employed a witch to cast spells on those who owed him money?


May those murdered in these outbreaks of primitive fanaticism rest in peace, and may those who killed them find whatever mercy is available to them.



yankeerenaissanceman said...

It is my belief that people that are pre-disposed to believe strongly in a "religion" do so because of certain connections in the brain. Whether that person ends up a muslim, christian, or witch burner is purely dependent on locally available persuasions. To me, assigning un-provable, mystical reasons to why the unexplained happens is what any religion is about. I find Christianity and every other religion equally as absurd as the beliefs of these witch burners. We know so little about the human brain as it is, it's a shame that people fall victim to the repercussions of belief. Someday Christianity will seem as silly as the belief in witches. But it will just be replaced with some other plausible doctrine that is widely socially accepted, because, that wiring in the brain will always persist in someone. At least Christians aren't hurting anyone, (anymore)

BobG said...

I've seen plenty of such beliefs among modern Navajos; there are a surprising number of educated Diné who still believe in witches. I've known more than one who would hire a singer to counteract curses made with ghost bones.

Anonymous said...

Do you really hold out hope for Africa, Peter?


Peter said...

@Antibubba: Not much, at least not while the current corrupt politicians rule the roost there. The problem is to find non-corrupt politicians to replace them . . . although, come to think about it, we have the same problem in the USA, don't we?