This is from George Thindwa of the Malawi Secular Humanist Society, of which I appear to be a member. He is an advocate for women who have been accused of witchcraft in Malawi as well as a tireless and rational voice for those who believe that religion has no place in politics.
Malawi, along with most Sub-Saharan African countries suffers from widespread societal problems associated with baseless witchcraft accusations (see here for another post I did on witchcraft in Malawi). The accused are most often poor and elderly women, but children of either sex have often been implicated. In the worst case, the accused are beaten and burned by members of the community, but otherwise, they fall victim to local or state judicial systems.
Women who are accused of witchcraft are often tried and imprisoned on shaky grounds, with nothing more than the uncorroborated testimony of troubled individuals, and worse, the testimony of children. Fact here is much stranger (and more disturbing) than fiction:
Case no 176/10-Senior Grade Magistrate Court- Lilongwe
Fosna Lekitala was charged with two counts; Pretending Witchcraft and Unlawful wounding of Esau James as at 6/11/2010. Fosna Lekitala pleaded not guilty when the case came before the Magistrate in Lilongwe, Malawi on 9th Nov. 2010. Judgment on the case was delivered on 16th Nov. 2010. Mr. GeorgeThindwa, the Executive Director, Association of Secular Humanism was present during the judgment on 16-11-2010.
The State paraded 4 witnesses who revealed the following:
1. That Fosna was a witch. She had 10 seater magic plane which she used to take people to graveyards to feast on human flesh.
2. On the night of 5-6th November, Isaac James refused to accompany Fosna to participate in witchcraft. The boy is stabbed.
3. A Mr. Blackson-a witness -testified that the child was injured by a basket and that it was at the hospital that he revealed that it was Fosna that had wounded him during the night.
4. The boy in his testimony stated to the nurse at the hospital when he went for treatment that it was FOSNA that had wounded him.
5. The Police report stated that Fosna had agreed to stabbing the boy with a knife disguised as a washing basket.
Fosna defended herself by stating that she was on her way to draw water when she was confronted with the case of wounding Esau James through witchcraft. She denied practicing witchcraft. Her witnesses; her son and husband, collaborated her claims that she was not practicing witchcraft nor that she was witch.
MAGISTRATE`S OBSERVATIONS AND CONCLUSIONS
The Magistrate –Mr. Ngoma- advised the court that it was an offense to accuse anyone of being a witch. He then went on deliver his judgment on the two counts purported to have been committed by Fosna Lekitala.
1. Unlawful wounding
The Magistrate noted that Isaac James was wounded. But went on to address the question of whether the wound was caused by witchcraft or not. Since the Law does not recognize witchcraft, he said that he was acquitting Fosna on unlawful wounding by witchcraft means.
2. Pretending Witchcraft
The Magistrate observed that Fosna had continuously denied pretending witchcraft all through her ordeal at her place of residence- Chiuzira Village.
However, he observed that Fosna admitted to pretending witchcraft from the statement that was recorded by the police. Therefore, he found Fosna guilty on pretending witchcraft.
The magistrate said that Fosna was beaten up and had her property destroyed at her residence on 6-11-2010. In these circumstances, he stated that he could not proceed to convict her but discharge her accordingly. He directed that the Police should facilitate her reallocation to her village in Nkhoma in Lilongwe.
With approval from the Kawale Police, Mr. Thindwa of ASH accompanied by one police Officer delivered Fosna (with her husband, sister and her two children who came to attend to her judgment to Nkhoma, some 50 kms away from Lilongwe.
The story of FOSNA as we see it -in brief
Esau James was injured by a basket during the night at his home. The sharp edges of the basket showed blood stains- it was tendered as evidence at the court. The parents took the boy to Kawale hospital for treatment. At the hospital when the nurse posed the question of how the wound came about, Essau James twists the story and alleges it is a witchcraft wound. He accuses Fosna Lekitala as being responsible. He commits a crime by this naming!
Fosna wakes up on 6-11-2010 and goes about with her daily chores. At about midday or thereabouts, some villagers including the area chief confront her that she has caused a witchcraft wound to one neighbor’s boy, Esau James. She is beaten up as a witch, and locked up for a beating.
The father of the child shields away her attackers and from the full fury of the mob justice. The 997 Police are called and rescues her and takes her to Kawale Police. At Kawale Police, she was quizzed, put in a cell for 3 days and charged for pretending witchcraft after being accused of being a witch. Her accusers went free without being charged! Those who beat her up were never charged as well.
TV Malawi is called to interview her about witchcraft. She appeared on TVM on Tuesday morning on 16th November, 2010 to talk about witchcraft.
Attached is the picture of Fosna Lekitala at the yard of the court on 16-11-2010. With Mr. Thindwa in the middle. Her two sons and the husband. Fosna has five children.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is the size of western Europe and has seen the largest conflict the planet has known since World War II. Since 1998, more than 5 million people have died, more than Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Most have died of malnutrition, starvation and disease. Millions more have been displaced. Worse, is the widespread use of sexual violence by all parties involved in the war. More than half a million women and children have been raped, sexually mutilated and left to die in an all encompassing strategy to impose fear and subservience in a weak and vulnerable population. Women are raped in front of their families and are thus sunned from their children, husbands and the wider community. Often women are physically wounded, suffering from vaginal mutilation which can include cutting, forced insertion of objects and gun shots. Women often can never bear children again. Victimized women frequently suffer from intense tearing that leads to fistula, a condition of incontinence which isolates women even further. It’s a disgusting chapter in human history and continues as I write this.
The war is largely fueled by the DRC’s vast trove of mineral resources which are in high demand among developed countries. Groups fight for control of minerals required for the manufacture of cell phones, computers and televisions. Wealthy countries are happy to purchase these resources from who ever is selling, and ask few questions as to where and how they were procured. Nonexistent governance and a powerless population create a perfect storm for groups which seek to grab market shares through violence. Everyone who owns a cell phone or a computer is at least somewhat complicit in what is happening in the Democratic Republic of Congo. To this end, bill HR 4128, a bill to “To improve transparency and reduce trade in conflict minerals” was introduced in Congress in 2009, but has yet to see a vote. Please go here and write to members of Congress to call for a vote on this bill.
Last night, the University of Michigan’s Raoul Wallenberg Award was presented to Dr. Denis Mukwege. Dr. Mukwege operates a women’s hospital in the city of Bukavu in eastern DRC. The Panzi Hospital treats women who have been subjected to sexual violence, offering psychological services, medical treatment, reconstructive surgery to repair the incredible physical damage and support services to help women transition back into society. They see approximately 3600 patients a year and he personally has performed more than 21,000 reconstructive surgeries over the past decade. In short, Mukwege is a human rights champion and a selfless advocate of women who have been subjected to sexual violence. Presently, he is in the United States attempting to raise awareness for the dire situation of women in the DRC.
People like Mukwege are not alone. Behind him is a small army of medical and women’s advocates in the DRC, who tirelessly and often at the expense of their own welfare and security work to make the troubled world they live in a better place. Every single one of them are deserving of this award.