Back in 2008 I commented on a speech given by a religious leader in Uganda, who claimed that the practice of witchcraft was contributing to widepread poverty among the Alur people. My impression was that this sounded more like fundamentalist propaganda than any sort of real plan to improve the standard of living among the Alur. "Trusting in God" may sound all fine and good, but it's not exactly helpful to someone who is so poor that they are barely surviving.
In the Limpopo region of South Africa, though, a related dynamic can be seen in action. It's not the actual practice of magick or witchcraft that is causing the problem, but rather the rumors and accusations spread by jealous neighbors. Here the economic side of witch persecutions is plain to see, in that if someone becomes more successful than his or her neighbors charges of witchcraft are often not far behind.
Recently empowered rural people are increasingly being accused of witchcraft by jealous neighbours, sometimes with grave consequences, Limpopo police said on Wednesday.
"Now you are a witch because you are driving a four-by-four. This is the mentality that people have," said provincial police spokesman Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi.
Grandmother Mupala Motopela, 81, and her grand daughter, Cynthia Lemaho, 26, were stoned to death and then set alight by a mob in Maake village outside Tzaneen at the weekend after being accused of witchcraft. Lemaho is survived by two children, aged two and 12, who managed to escape unharmed.
Mulaudzi said this was the fourth incident in villages in Limpopo in the past three months where people were either assaulted or killed after being accused of witchcraft.
"Once people start amassing wealth, getting bigger houses and sending their children to better schools, it means you are engaging yourself in witchcraft.
"People think something is helping you do that [amass wealth] and then they accuse you of witchcraft."
The grain of truth behind this is that upward mobility is so difficult in most societies that without a lot of luck it just isn't possible, especially in a society such as South Africa which has a level of income disparity that is among the highest in the world.