Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Really Fake African Witches

Most of the time people who are accused of witchcraft in Africa aren't magical practitioners at all, but rather individuals who are simply disliked in their community. In such situations witchcraft accusations become a convenient excuse to drive out or even murder these people, whose only real crime is not getting along with their neighbors. In this case from Zimbabwe, though, the level of phoniness is greater still. Two women arrested for witchcraft revealed to the judge that they were actresses hired to play the role of witches to drum up publicity for a local religious leader.

The two women accused of engaging in practices associated with witchcraft yesterday revealed their true identity as Elmet Mbewe and Christine Nyamupandu from Landas Business Centre in Chihota when they appeared before a Mbare magistrate for routine remand.

They also attempted to disassociate themselves from witchcraft, saying they were hired by a "prophet" from Harare's Budiriro suburb, Alfred Mupfumbati (30), as a publicity stunt to earn him more followers.

When they were caught while naked with paraphernalia associated with witchcraft at a house in Harare's Budiriro suburb on September 10 -- the two women gave their names to the police as Maria Moyo (30) and Chipo Chakaja (26) and said they were from Gokwe.

In Africa "prophets" who claim to do battle with witches can clean up on donations from followers, so I imagine this constitutes Mupfumbati's motive for hiring the women. What I am now wondering is how widespread this sort of thing might be. If those reporting flying in baskets or performing other unbelievable-sounding feats are simply performers, such accounts would have no relevance to the evaluation of real African magical techniques. Rather, they simply would be based on repeating stories from folklore as if they were true and leaving it at that.

Religious leaders who engage in this sort of deception are enriching themselves at the expense of their communities, and paying actresses to run around claiming to be witches only feeds hysteria that can claim lives. If Africa ever wants to get a handle on dealing with witch persecutions Mupfumbati and people like him need to knock these sorts of stunts off, the sooner the better.

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