Eighty-two-year-old Faith Tavherwa wore a weary face, as she followed proceedings of her case at Marondera Magistrates’ Court.
BY Jairos Saunyama
The senior citizen had taken to court a local witch hunter, generally known as a tsikamutanda, Blessing Bako (28) for allegedly flogging her in public and forcing her to confess she was a witch.
Bako of Chigasa Village, under Chief Ruzani, was jailed two years by magistrate Jabulani Mzinyathi, who denounced the witch-hunter’s act as barbaric.
“The damage has already been done. This is indeed a curse, how can a young man call me a witch and flog me like a kid?” Tavherwa said, as she left the gallery.
According to court papers, on the fateful day, Bako approached Tavherwa at her residence in Tavherwa Village in Wedza district and declare her a witch.
When she denied the allegations, Bako beat her up all over her body with a whip, demanding that she confirms his prophecy lest society would label him a bogus witch hunter.
After the severe lashing carried out, as the whole community watched, Bako ordered Tavherwa to kneel down and drenched her with cold water. As a result, Tavherwa sustained injuries on her thighs, head, eyes and back and a medical affidavit produced in court confirmed the injuries.
Tavherwa was rescued from the attack by fellow villagers, who later reported the matter to police.
The old woman is not alone in this predicament.
A number of women, particularly in rural areas, have endured emotional and physical humiliation at the hands of tsikamutandas.
Marondera-based gender activist, Marjory Svisva, urged women to report such cases to the police, instead of allowing the tsikamutandas to run roughshod over their rights.
“Women should not be abused at all costs. It is the elderly women, who take care of their grandchildren after their parents die of HIV-related ailments, which they are not accepting and then blame the elderly women for bewitching them. It is a pity that lack of knowledge of legislation is affecting the women especially in the rural areas,” she said.
“For instance, the Witchcraft Suppression Act has not been repealed and yet most women, especially, in rural areas are still being victimised. There is need for protection of the vulnerable women. The law needs to be translated into local languages and also educational campaigns on women’s rights at law should be carried out. I urge women to resist to part with the little they have for example, livestock to bogus witch hunters.”
According to section 97 of the Criminal Law (Codification Reform) Act Chapter 9:23, it is an offence for one to “accuse a person of witchcraft”.
Recently, a witch-hunter in Nyamajura area of Odzi in Manicaland province allegedly abducted and detained a school head girl in his lodgings, forcing her to skip her O Level examinations. Police had to intervene and the girl was later escorted to the school to sit for the geography paper later that afternoon. The witch hunter allegedly later mysteriously escaped from police custody, and is said to be on the run.
Another human rights campaigner, Charlene Chekenya of Stand Foundation, said there is need to educate women on their rights, as well as to protect them from being victimised by the tsikamutandas.
She said religion and culture are the most common manipulative weapons being used to abuse women in various forms, with rural and marginalised communities in Zimbabwe being the most affected.
“Because of the challenging economic crisis in Zimbabwe, bogus enterprising men have been arising at alarming rates in the name of the common tsikamutandas in rural areas and prophets in the urban areas,” Chekenya said.
“Women in rural areas are easily manipulated by these strange men because of their meekness and naiviety, aided by a lack of education on the subject matter and the general cultural norms that suppress locality within women.”
For the sake of appeasing the community, most of these women end up paying unprecedented fines for crimes they would not have committed, for fear of being ostracised by society.
“It is vital that the social and cultural constructs that suppress women in rural communities be broken through information programmes that involve community leaders constituting of the headmen, chiefs and relevant stakeholders,” she said.
Chekenya added that women should have a clear understanding of their rights to avoid manipulation by witch hunters.
“Women in rural areas have no clear understanding of their rights and the variable support structures that are available in their favour. For example, accusing someone of witchcraft by the tsikamutanda is a defamation of character that should be reported. Additionally, manipulating women into paying fines for crimes that are not within the laws of the country is itself an unlawful activity.
“Community leaders in rural communities should not allow traditional, religious or cultural practices to be forced on individuals who are not interested, it should be free will and, hence, tsikamutandas have no right to manipulate women,” she said.
The government last month banned tsikamutandas’ extortionist practices and urged victims to report the evil practice to police.
A Cabinet resolution in December reads: “Consequently, government is calling upon, firstly, all citizens, who have fallen victim to witch hunting, to forthwith report the evil practice to police and law enforcement agencies with a view to bringing to book the perpetrators and seek compensation.
“Secondly, the minister of Rural Development, Promotion and Preservation of National Culture and Heritage Abednico Ncube has been directed to work closely with law enforcement agencies and traditional leaders, ensure that the repugnant extortionist practice of witch hunting is immediately brought to an end countrywide.”