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CNN Sunday Opinion: about Crimes and Witches

Africa News Service

Harare (Zimbabwe Standard, April 12, 1998) - In 1988, at Mazowe Police Station in Mashonaland Central province, a 48-year-old renowned spirit medium in the area was arrested.

The case was cited as a contravention of a section of the Witchcraft Suppression Act, where the spirit that possessed this woman had allegedly accused a group of people at Foyle Farm for practising witchcraft and sorcery in the area. It was an eventful case. The spirit claimed its cultural right of exposing witches which would dissuade them from bewitching others. The police felt that it was a threat to public peace and an incitement to violence. The balance between tradition and the colonial law came to test, but the law came up the victor.

The woman stayed in remand prison in Bindura for a couple of months while subsequent magistrates laboured to convict, despite the prosecutor's obscure case. The case was finally put to rest at the Harare Magistrates Court in October 1988 after a legal adviser of the family successfully challenged the legality of the prosecution. This is one out of several other incidents that confirms that our cultural rites are often being put to test. Similar incidents have been happening throughout the country, but have often gone unreported. Because of our assumed Christian ethics and values and the confidence which people have in the rule of law, things that have something to do with witches, spirits, and spirit mediums are being taken for granted nationally. It is time the Witchcraft Suppression Act was revisited and those people who practise witchcraft and sorcery should be punished.

Organisations like Zinatha need to be given a limited mandate on how to expose these activities, especially in cases where recourse to law alone will not help the situation. One clergyman once remarked, during a church sermon, that the dead will never see anything in their graves. Once they die they have nothing to do with those alive. The congregation ululated, clapped hands, and praised the Lord. That was a gem in the sermon that Sunday morning. One moment please, Christian brethren and sisters.

Have you ever reflected upon what avenging spirits, witches, zvikwambo and zvitokoroshi are doing to people? And what have you to say about the spirit of a dead father speaking on her five-year-old daughter, reported in the Herald recently? The religious school of thought has overshadowed national thinking on the subject of spirits and witchcraft. In a bizarre incident recently reported in the press, policemen recording statements and interrogating people to solve the murder of 56-year-old Robson Gweera in Chief Chitsungo area-got an unexpected lead to their puzzle when a five-year-old daughter of the deceased got possessed by her dead father's spirit and revealed his killers. The young girl related the incident and implicated a man who later admitted to committing the crime. All and sundry were led to the shallow grave where Gweera was buried. Police in Guruve took the evidence as admissible and made an arrest on the suspect.

A docket has since been prepared, and the accused is going to stand trial. Interesting though, the crime rests on the practise of witchcraft which led to the brutal murder of Gweera. The problem is, could someone be arrested because of the implication made by a spirit possessing a child? Is it admissible at law to prosecute someone on that basis? How about the fact that the person implicated only consented, only because initially he was a first offender and secondly he was under duress? The Witchcraft Suppression Act, inter alia, stipulates that anyone who accuses another of practising witchcraft is guilty of an offence. What does the same act say with regard to a spirit that accuses a person of committing a crime?

For years, members of Zinatha have cried foul that the law impinged upon their right to expose evil-doers in our communities, those who have been responsible for murders and other social problems that have crippled our society. There is talk that some people are killing others using zvikwambo or zvitokoroshi for the sake of making money. Even some well-established businesses and bus companies are alleged to have been established using money acquired through the use of magic. If one attends a funeral in the rural communities, talk about these things is rife. Someone at a funeral I attended last year once remarked that some people are being buried alive, especially those who die in the remote rural areas but not taken for post mortem.

Truly speaking, if in the cases of serious murders and robberies that are perpetrated were in cases of complications assisted by spirit mediums, perhaps some of these puzzles could be solved. If during the war, guerrillas asked for guidance from spirit mediums, how can the law ignore the role of the spirit mediums in investigating crimes? A test case has been publicised which I have alluded to. I am not advocating here that the law should ensure that whatever the spirit says should be admissible at law, rather I am suggesting that such evidence must be taken on merit. As has been demonstrated in the Guruve case, police found it easy to bring to book the culprit who committed a heinous crime against his own kin. It is time parliament seriously considered amending the Witchcraft Suppression Act with a view of making provisions for such unexpected events. Maybe this would go a long way in helping the overworked police force investigate complicated crimes.

By Mclytton Clever [Commentary]

Copyright 1998 Zimbabwe Standard. Distributed via Africa News Online.

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