Sunday, August 23, 2009

Witch Doctors 'Hunt Children To Sacrifice To Dead Tribal Chief'

Parents in a remote part of eastern Zimbabwe are keeping their children at home for fear one of them will be abducted and killed as a human sacrifice. The case has opened up debate on ritual killings and witchcraft in this still deeply divided southern African country. Despite denials from local officials, some villagers in Makoni district claim ritual killers have been moving around looking for a victim who will be buried alongside the late tribal chief of the area, Naboth Gandanzara Makoni. "Someone has to be sacrificed and serve as his pillow," sources told the state-controlled Manica Post newspaper. Worryingly, police are not saying a thing. Burial practices for the reclusive Makoni clan are normally shrouded in secrecy. But delays in burying the mummified chief – who is believed to have died more than 11 months ago – and fights over who will succeed him appear to have led villagers to speak openly for the first time. Pupils at St Luke's Primary School have been told to move about in groups for their own safety, the Manica Post has reported. The school is near to where the chief's body is being embalmed. A Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) official said claims a child would be killed were not true. "There is nothing like that," the official, who is from Makoni, told The Scotsman. "But in our culture we do not say when the chief died." The official said the chief would most likely be buried next month.Still, locals are worried. "Please stop these traditional killers," one reader wrote to the Manica Post. Another parent wrote in to say that his 14-year-old daughter had disappeared, though from the central Gweru area and not from Makoni. In the past, Makoni families from whom a child was taken for such sacrifice would be rewarded with land, or one of the chief's daughters would be handed over in marriage to a relative of the murdered child, by way of recompense. With a strong tradition of mission schools, Zimbabwe has a population that is more than 80 per cent Christian. But many also believe in spirits, particularly in the countryside. Witches and goblins make headline news, even in the stuffy, propaganda-riddled official Herald daily. Zimbabwe was kept agog in June by the tale of 21-year-old Regina Sveto, who claimed she had flown naked in a winnowing basket for 75 miles on a supernatural mission to kill her brother-in-law. A Harare magistrate handed her a one-year suspended jail sentence and ordered her to get help to escape a "spell" that had been cast on her. The brother-in-law got away. Witch-hunters are also doing a roaring business, taking cattle and goats as payment from often impoverished villagers as they identify witches in rural communities. A 19-year-old girl from Goromonzi was raped by a so-called witch-hunter. The respected Traditional Medicines Practitioners' Council says the tsikamutandas have to register before they can practise. Last week, stallholders at a flea market in Bulawayo beat up a man they said was having mubobobo or "supernatural sex" with female shoppers.