In Malawi, South Africa, sorcery is afoot. At least, that’s what the police are being told, and with over fifty accused witches serving sentences of up to 6 years for the practice of strange magicks, there’s something odd going on. Critics are calling it ageism.
The problems for 82 year old Kanthukako Supaunyolo began when her grandson woke up one morning with a nosebleed. Fearing a hex was placed on the family, her own children sussed her out as a sorcerer and called the police, landing her in jail for violating a hundred year old law originally created to quell the spread of witchcraft.
“How could I bewitch my own grandchild. For what?”, Supaunyolo told reporters.
“We suffered this injustice because we are poor and old. I blame the police who are overzealous in arresting innocent people and charging them with witchcraft, which cannot be proved in a court of law.”
“In Malawi, people hate old people,” Liness Nkhukuyalira, a previously jailed accused, told the AFP. “They think everybody who is old must be a witch.”
Luckily, there is a human rights group looking out for the unfortunate few who are accused of practicing sorcery. The ASH, or Association for Secular Humanism, headed by activist George Thindwa, was founded last year to fight abuses against alleged witches.
After the ASH paid her fine of 33 dollars, a fortune for many Malawians who live on less than two dollars a day, Supaunyolo was released with her friends Liness Nkhukuyalira, 72, and Nurse Nthala, 62, also accused of witchcraft under the antiquated law.
“Of late there have been increasing cases of people being arrested and convicted based on accusations that they are practicing witchcraft,” Thinda told reporters.
“We want to secure the release of those labelled as witches because they are 100 percent innocent.”
Creating the problems in question, is a law created in 1911, a holdover from the British colonial period, that makes it illegal for anyone to practice witchcraft. Unfortunately, as has always been the case with regulations such as this, it is a law often enacted by angry neighbors, jealous lovers, or even those not fond of the elderly, in order to have victims arrested, and if they are unable to pay their fines, jailed.
Last week, the ASH helped Namakhalepo Kamphata, an 83 year old woman accused of sorcery by her nephew, with food and cash donations after serving a 3 year prison sentence, the longest anyone has spent behind bars for witchcraft in Malawi.
The recent criticisms and abuse of the outdated law have led to an inquiry by the state-funded Law Commission, which has promised to review the law, saying it should “safeguard the rights of victims, especially women and children who are often the victims of witchcraft allegations, regardless of whether witchcraft exists or not.