Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mob destroys house of a ‘witch’

The Sunday Times

What was Mariam Nazeem's compound in Kalilima Village in Traditional Authority Mkanda in Mulanje is now a rubble of destruction courtesy of irate villagers who looted and torched her compound for suspecting her to be a witch and responsible for a spate of deaths in the area.

Mariam cannot be located since the incident happened on Monday November 28, and her relations are worried for her safety. They said they have been trying to get hold of her on her mobile phone but it is out of reach and they suspected she might have lost it in the fracas.

The Sunday Times visited her compound on Friday and found the main house looted of all its property and some items set ablaze. Its door and window frames had been pulled out and parts of the iron sheets on the roof pulled off.

Several other structures such as a toilet, a bathroom, kitchen and another house and its property had been set alight.

The villagers spoken to could not pinpoint who had vandalised the home but said they do not want the woman in their village again.

"We know this is her village but she shouldn't come here again. She should have been practising her witchcraft with her children only but she is using other people's children, telling them to kill their parents and guardians. We can't allow her back," said Hanna Basale, who claimed that her Standard 2 grandson told her in December last year that the 'witch' had asked him to kill her in readiness for Christmas.

The villagers alleged there have been several "mysterious deaths" in the past two months in the area but what ignited this recent incident was death of a young man in the village.

The deceased's mother, Catherine Namitanga, a neighbour to Nazeem, said his son, a father of one, had climbed a tree on November 8 to fetch feed for goats when a branch he had stepped on snapped, sending the man crashing to the ground where he lay unconscious and later pronounced dead on arrival at Nkando Health Centre.

A few days later, Namitanga's 9-year old grandson confessed that he had actually killed his uncle, acting together with Nazeem and that the fall from the tree was part of their magical design to make it look like normal death and unsuspicious.

One after another, a total of 13 children in the village reported that Nazeem, who is coloured but is famously referred to as mmwenye \[Indian] in the village, was teaching them witchcraft.

The matter was taken to Nkando Police who reportedly said they had no jurisdiction over the matter and asked the Village Headman Kalilima to sort it out instead.

The village headman was not available when The Sunday Times visited but the villagers said on the morning of November 28, the chief's men had gone around the villages inviting people to witness a case of witchcraft at his court.

Over 1,000 people are said to have gathered from over five surrounding villages.

"This was the first time that a case of witchcraft was heard in the presence of a large crowd. Normally, it just takes a few people connected to the case and the matter is solved without resulting into any violence," said one villager sympathetic to the woman.

The villagers said Nazeem denied that she was witch and that she was responsible for the deaths that had happened in the area. But she asked the chief and the crowd to get a traditional doctor to diagnose if she was a witch and she pledged to pay the doctor if the people would not afford it.

The headman agreed to this proposal but as she departed the court, the crowd jeered her and followed her to her house where they started pelting stones at her compound. They eventually descended on the house and looted and torched it and other structures and property in the compound.

"As of now, we don't know where she is. We have reported to the police that she is missing and the police have also told us that they are investigating the looting and the torching," said Nazeem's uncle.

The four grandchildren she was keeping are now staying with her sister in Blantyre. It is alleged that Nazeem was also once kicked out of Mbayani Township in Blantyre some years back on the same allegations of witchcraft. He relations claimed they were not aware of the Mbayani incident.

The Laws of Malawi criminalise naming anyone to be a witch and do not recognise witchcraft, whose belief runs deep in Malawi.

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