Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.


Murder and magic as Tanzania tackles 'witchcraft' killings

23 January 2015, 08:01

Magu - It was a hyena that killed the boy, but four elderly women got the blame. Villagers slashed them with machetes then set fire to their bodies for casting spells on the wild animal.

"They cut her with machetes," said Sufia Shadrack, the daughter of one of the murdered women in her small village in Tanzania's northern Mwanza district. "Then they took firewood, mattresses, an iron sheet and burned her like you would cook fish or meat."

In Tanzania, hundreds of people are killed each year accused of being witches.

Like Shadrack's mother, many victims are elderly, vulnerable or marginalised - or own property that greedy relatives seize after accusing of witchcraft.

But while some are killed falsely accused of black magic, others are murdered by the "sorcerers" themselves: scores of people with albinism have been killed and their body parts cooked up for spells.

Also read: Albino girl kidnap - Tanzania police arrest 15

After UN condemnation, the government this month promised a crackdown to stem attacks.

However, activists fear promises may prove little more than rhetoric, as previous government measures have had little or no impact on the deep seated beliefs.

"I am worried about getting older," said 50-year-old Shadrack, who must walk past the charred wreckage of her mother's house to visit her grave.

"The ones who killed my mother, I don't know how they think about me," she added. "Maybe they will kill me too."

- Sacrifices to prevent evil -

Tanzanian rights groups recorded 765 witchcraft related murders in 2013, but warn the real figure is likely far higher.

"The huge number of people who have been killed only includes cases reported," said Paul Mikongoti from the Legal and Human Rights Centre. "There are so many people that we can't get the number."

Simply having bloodshot eyes can be a sign of "witchcraft", something all too common after decades spent cooking over smoky fires.

At least 74 albinos have been murdered since 2000, according to United Nations experts, who say an entire corpse can fetch $75,000 (64,500 euros), a fortune in the impoverished country.

Observers say attacks against albinos are increasing as Tanzania's October 2015 national elections looms, encouraging political campaigners to turn to witchdoctors for good luck.

Beliefs of the east African country's 49 million people are roughly divided equally between Islam, Christianity and traditional religions.

But some 93 percent also believe in witchcraft, by far the highest level recorded in a 19-nation African survey by the PEW Research Center in 2010.

- 'All about my inheritance' -

While Tanzanian law gives women equal inheritance rights many oppose that, and activists say some relatives use witchcraft as an excuse to grab property.

"Normally men like to dominate... but when the sisters start to be a bit resistant they think the only way to access that property -- be it cows, be it farms -- is to claim this lady is a witch," said Flavian Bifandimu from HelpAge, which advocates for the rights of older people.

"That justifies her death, then automatically the man will take the property. Simple as that."

Mage Benge, from the small village of Magu, was attacked five years ago after she was accused of using spells to kill her parents. Men hacked her with machetes before leaving her for dead.

"It was all about my inheritance, cows and farmland," said Benge - adding that had she been able to use magic, she would have protected herself.

Also read: Nigerian arrested for selling wife for human sacrifice

Instead, she shows her scarred face, and says she still sees some of the men who attacked her walking free in her village.

"They hurt me badly and made me poor," she said. "Before I could farm on my own, now I am a beggar."

The witchcraft ban does not cover traditional healers who use herbs to help the sick, which two-thirds of Tanzanians use, according to government surveys.

In a small hut, traditional healer Hana Mazoya warns of unscrupulous pretenders.

"If you tell the patient that they have been bewitched by somebody, you just create a conflict between the two, that is when killings can happen," said Mazoya, dressed in a beaded crown of long black feathers.

She divines the future, but says the spirits that guide her do not dabble in the dangerous practice of denouncing witches.

"My ghosts do not know wizards," she said.



Read News24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
1 comment
Comments have been closed for this article.

Read more from our Users

Nigeria @ 56: Words to my green f...

A leader’s job is not to dictate, but rather to be respected, admired and be a trustee, of the land we love, with so much potential, a land which should be freer than free. Its still a long way to fufilling our destiny! Read more...

Submitted by
Isaac Asabor263
Recession: An opportunity for Nig...

The recession should be seen as an opportunity for the country’s promotion as long as we all collectively conduct ourselves in a patriotic manner, writes Isaac Asabor.  Read more...

Submitted by
Black and White

We want to imitate the whites in everything because we are ignorant of our inherent originality and content. We spend all our Naira to acquire his inventions because we so oblivious of our natural endowments that we allow him have it for free. Read more...

Submitted by
Nate Nat
Adamawa State University Mubi: A ...

ADSU integrity forum has accused the Sunday Joshua Wugira, a lawyer, of adopting unorthodox tactics by abusing his privilege by attacking the integrity of ADSU Vice Chancellor Dr. Moses Zira Zaruwa, writes a News24 reader. Read more...

Submitted by
Abdulsalam Jubril
My Country Nigeria (Part One)

Poetry by Abdulsalam Jubril.

Submitted by
Abdulsalam Jubril
Recession, dearth in leadership a...

Every leader has the opportunity to become great and making himself immortal in the lives and hearts of people for generations to come. Will Mr. President seize this opportunity?, questions Abdulsalam Jubril. Read more...