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Witchcraft ban ends in Zimbabwe - BBC

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  • Bouwe van der Eems
    *Zimbabwe has unbanned the practice of witchcraft, repealing legislation dating back to colonial rule.* From July the government acknowledges that supernatural
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 2, 2006
      *Zimbabwe has unbanned the practice of witchcraft, repealing legislation
      dating back to colonial rule.*

      From July the government acknowledges that supernatural powers exists -
      but prohibits the use of magic to cause someone harm.

      In 1899, colonial settlers made it a crime to accuse someone of being a
      witch or wizard - wary of the witch hunts in Europe a few centuries
      earlier which saw many people burned at the stake after such accusations.

      But to most Zimbabweans, especially those who grew up in the rural
      areas, it has been absurd to say that the supernatural does not exist.

      In fact, it is not hard to find vivid stories about the use of magic.

      Alfred, for example, believes that he was bewitched at work some years
      ago, making him partly bald.

      He described how after supper one evening as he and his wife were
      retiring to bed his hair disappeared.

      "When my wife came into the bedroom she look at me and said, 'What
      happened to your hair? Where's it gone?'

      "She saw a bald patch from the forehead going back on the side of the
      head. There was no trace of it," he says.

      He spent seven months visiting traditional healers to make it grow back.

      "She made some incisions round the bald patch, put some powdery muti
      (medicine) and lo and behold within a few day the hair had grown."


      There are many other accounts of the use of magic, and the new law
      effectively legitimises many practices of traditional healers.

      These include rolling bones to foretell the future, divination, attempts
      to communicate with the dead, using muti - traditional powders and
      fetishes - to ensure the desired sex of a child.

      But there will be some legal grey areas, like whether it is legal for a
      husband to place some charms in his bedroom - charms that may injure his
      wife if she is unfaithful.

      Professor Claude Mararikei - a sociologist and the chairman of
      Zimbabwe's Traditional Medical Practitioner's Council - argues that
      witchcraft has some positive benefits in the modern world.

      He cites the example of a man who stole some bewitched cement that
      became stuck to the thief's shoulders so he could not remove the bag.

      "So if you have that knowledge to capture a thief in a cattle kraal when
      he comes for the cows, well and good. It's like electrifying the fence
      round your house," he says.

      *'Waste of time'*

      Others believe that the country would be better off without elevating
      the supernatural.

      "I think it's a waste of time and energy. The urban areas are not really
      caught up in these supernatural issues," says social commentator Thomas

      "Claims of witchcraft need to be investigated instead of putting down
      every disorder in society that is taking in our society to witchcraft or
      modern magic," he adds.

      The church in Zimbabwe has always believed that witchcraft exists, but
      it has been careful to establish the source of such supernatural powers.

      "As Christians we've got to recognise that supernatural forces are good
      if they originate from God - now witchcraft is one of the things that
      originates from the Satanic world," says Reverend Roy Musasiwa who runs
      a theological college in the capital, Harare.

      The Witchcraft Suppression Act was used fairly frequently, but
      prosecuting someone under the new legislation may prove difficult.

      The new Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act will demand proof that
      a person has supernatural powers and that they are using them to harm

      "It's not going to be easy task," says Custom Kachambwa, a judge with
      years of experience in the legal field.

      He says witnesses will often be traditional healers, who could be
      accused of practising harmful magic in the future.

      But whatever the problems, the repealing of the witchcraft laws is
      another sign that Zimbabwe's government is continuing to move away from
      Western values and placing more emphasis on the country's own traditions.

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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