IF one flips the pages of any newspaper in Zimbabwe, stories to do with witchcraft dominate.
The practice of witchcraft in African societies, Zimbabwe in particular, is rampant. It is as old as the African tradition itself.
It will be wrong and out of context with the everyday realities of the African culture for one to think that witchcraft is a practice of those who are still stuck with events of yesteryear.
Even in these times of new information technologies, the issue of witchcraft is as prevalent as day and night.
The debate on witchcraft is a thorny one and it has been raging for a long time now. In Zimbabwe, the Witchcraft Suppression Act Ã¢â‚¬â€ which is a colonial enactment that was inherited at independence Ã¢â‚¬â€ has invited a lot of debate. In its raw form, the law which was subtly amended in July 2006 advocates for the non-existence of witchcraft in society.
Under the law, it is an offence to call somebody a wizard or witch as it also an offence to accuse somebody for causing death or injury to somebody or property.
Analysts have posited that by rejecting the existence of witchcraft and subsequently enacting that law, the colonial regime managed to destroy one of the tenets of African traditional belief as a way of disenfranchising the blacks of their religious bedrock. Now that the country is free, many are of the view that the laws that govern Zimbabwe must mirror the day to day life of the people therein.
They believe it is a taboo at law for the lawmakers of this country to think that the issue of witchcraft has no relevance yet there is a popular understanding and belief that witchcraft is as widespread as the air we breathe.
Even prophets that have become crowd pullers in this age agree that witchcraft and other forces of evil are a great challenge to the general livelihood of all and sundry.
Some have posited that the fact that people are now thronging en-masse to Pentecostal churches that are promising deliverance from evil attacks, including witchcraft, is a good pointer to the fact that witchcraft is affecting everyone.
Then, if we agree that laws are crafted in line with norms and values of a people with the sole purpose of upholding popular culture and ensuring that people stick to agreed ways of life, is witchcraft not everyday practice in Zimbabwe?
If witchcraft is what music is to Zimbabweans, then in as much as there are laws to protect and promote the local music industry, laws should be enacted to protect people from those who cast evil spells on others because of several reasons that include jealousy, hatred and greed.
Many people want the Government to repel the Witchcraft Suppression Act, arguing that the legislation is protecting evil people who are harming families.
Two weeks ago, the Senator for Mutasa-Nyanga constituency, Mr Patrick Chitaka asked the Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, Cde Patrick Chinamasa, why Government was not repealing the act considering that the practice was rife in the country.
Cde Chinamasa said Government would not protect people who use witchcraft and other supernatural powers to harm others. He said any person who could provide evidence to show that one was a witch could escape criminal prosecution. Cde Chinamasa said the Act was repealed a long time ago and replaced by the Criminal Codification and Reform Act.
"Clearly if you point out that someone is a witch, it is defamatory. But if you can prove it that someone was found with a human hand that is enough proofÃ¢â‚¬Â¦if you can open a grave and eat its contents, that's enough proof," he said.
However, people still think that is not enough, arguing that witches are still being protected because evidence against them is hard to prove in court unless specialised n'angas are hired to chip in.
President of the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers' Association, Professor Gordon Chavhunduka, has on numerous occasions called upon the courts and the police to work hand in glove with his organisation in fishing out those who practice witchcraft, but it seems his calls have fallen on deaf ears.
In pushing for sweeping amendments to the Witchcraft Suppression Act, High Court Judge, Justice Mophias Cheda, said in 2009 that Government must ease colonial restrictions on the practice of witchcraft.
He said many Zimbabweans retain strong beliefs in the healing power of spirit mediums or witch doctors.
"The strongly held conviction of belief in witchcraft and traditional healers Ã¢â‚¬Â¦can not be wished away," he said, urging amendments to the act "in keeping with the popular thinking and beliefs of the majority in this country."
Justice Cheda said the Act has forced some rites to be performed in secret, reiterating that well-to-do Zimbabweans often visit traditional healers under the cover of darkness.
Those in the police force have posed these questions; How do you verify an evil spell? How do you know this death is due to witchcraft? What does a witch look like?
Prof Chavhunduka once noted: "Witchcraft and tokoloshis are making a come back. It's obvious the cause is economic. The worse the economy gets, the more political tension there is in society, the more frustrated and frightened people get. They turn to witchcraft to gain riches or to hurt their enemies.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â
Church organisations have also weighed in confirming the existence of witchcraft which they said is part of Satan's work.
They said those practicising it are obsessed with demons that need to be exorcised by the Holy Sprit. So they say instead of punishing the person obsessed by demons we should strive to deal with the demons though the Bible. If the demons are exorcised, they say, that person will be born again.
Christians posit that even if we jail those who practices witchcraft they will continue do so even in jail because we will have dealt with the human flesh and not the evil spirit troubling that person.
Below is the amended Part VI of Chapter V of the Witchcraft Suppression Act which reads: "Whoever accuses a person of witchcraft means to indicate that the person (is possessed by a spirit or) used non-natural means (witch-finding) to cause death, injury, disease or inability in any person. This also means that destruction or loss of or damage to property of any description was involved.
"Any person who engages in any practice knowing that it is commonly associated with witchcraft, shall be guilty of engaging in a practice commonly associated with witchcraft if having the intention to cause harm to any person.
"Such practice inspires in the person against whom it was directed, a real fear or belief that harm will occur to that person or any member of his or her family, and be liable to a fine not exceeding level ten or imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years or both."
"Spoken words shall not in themselves constitute a practice commonly associated with witchcraft for the purpose of this section, unless accompanied by or used in connection with other conduct commonly associated with witchcraft.
"For the avoidance of doubt it is declared that any person who assists another person to commit the crime of engaging in a practice commonly associated with witchcraft, by giving advice or providing any substance or article to enable that person to commit the crime, shall be liable to be charged as an accomplice to the crime.
"A court shall not take judicial notice of any practice that is said to be commonly associated with witchcraft, but any person who, in the opinion of the court, is suitably qualified to do so on account of his/her knowledge, shall be competent to give expert evidence as to whether the practice that forms the subject of a charge under this section is a practice that is commonly associated with witchcraft, whether generally or in the particular area where the practice is alleged to have taken place.
"Any person who groundlessly or by the purported use of non-natural means accuses another person of witchcraft shall be guilty of indicating a witch or wizard and liable.
"It shall not be a defence to a contravention of a subsection involving the purported use of any non-natural means for the person charged to prove that the person he/she accused actually engaged in any practice commonly associated with witchcraft, but the court may suggest such circumstance as mitigatory when assessing the sentence to be imposed."
What's your take on witchcraft and the law in Zimbabwe.
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