Breaking the silence on ritual killings

Ritual killings and human sacrifice happen in many, if not all, countries in Africa. Cases have been reported in Botswana, Lesotho, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Parents from east Africa whose daughter was killed and had her tongue cut out — a sign that she was probably a human sacrifice in a ritual killing.
Parents from east Africa whose daughter was killed and had her tongue cut out — a sign that she was probably a human sacrifice in a ritual killing.

In Zambia, there have been cases where people’s heads were found in Asian-owned shops whilst in Swaziland, some politicians commissioned ritual killings so that they could win elections.

The grossness of the ritual murders is quite scary to imagine as victims’ bodies are mutilated and certain body parts go missing. Needless to mention that in South Africa, body parts can be sold for as little as R3000.

On 24 September, South Africa celebrated Heritage Day under the banner “Celebrating the Heroes and Heroines of the Liberation Struggle in South Africa.” According to the Department of Arts and Culture, the theme allowed the nation to “celebrate the lasting legacy of the national liberation struggle”. Most importantly, Heritage Day provides an opportunity for South Africans to celebrate their cultural heritage and diversity of beliefs and traditions.

Violation of rights

As a concerned resident, I also feel that this is an opportunity for us to break the silence around the negative cultural practice of ritual killings that is prevalent in society and violates the basic universal human right to life.

During the course of Women’s Month in August, South Africa became the ninth Southern African Development Community country to ratify the Protocol on Gender and Development. This brought to two thirds the number of countries that have done so, and means that the Protocol is now in force.

As we also celebrate the coming into force of this crucial instrument, let us ponder what is meant by the provision that all states adopt laws and policies to protect the girl and boy child from “harmful cultural attitudes and practices in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child”.

I recall vividly growing up in a township in Zimbabwe. This was just when public transport in the form of the Toyota Hiace taxi had just been introduced. At that age,

we were scared to death by the stories doing the rounds in the township of the disappearance of children. We were told how kids were being lured by strangers who promised them sweets. The next thing, their bodies would be found in the bushes with body parts missing. Rumours were that business people were taking the children’s heads to Durban and were trading them off for the taxis.

Ritual killings, or muti killings, are committed for the purpose of taking human body parts which are used to prepare charms and other traditional medicines. These charms are believed to have supernatural powers which are greatly enhanced if the organs are removed whilst the victim is still alive. In Southern Africa there is a belief that female body parts possess supernatural powers that bring good fortune or make criminals invisible to police and other authorities.

Spiritual fortification

Ritual killing is perceived as an act of spiritual fortification. In an article titled New Magic for New Times: Muti Murder in Democratic South Africa, Louise Vincent (2008) says that “the use of human body parts for medicinal purposes is based in the belief that it is possible to appropriate the life force of one person through its literal consumption by another.” The victim is thus carefully chosen.

The Sowetan reported in July this year that the brother of Gladys Mogaramedi (61) killed her for her body parts. Police discovered the badly mutilated body without the private parts. This case is but the tip of the iceberg of some of the cultural problems that our society is still grappling with in relation to gender based violence.

More often than not, these crimes evade the spotlight because they are largely unreported or recorded merely as murder. Ritualists target vulnerable members of society such as the poor, women, children, people with disabilities and albinos whose families often do not have the resources to demand justice.

It is time governments turned up the heat on culprits and put an end to this violation of human rights. Heavy sentences should be given to those who commission and carry out the ritual killings.

It is heartening to note that in a July 2010 ruling, the High Court of Mwanza region sentenced 50-year-old Kazimiri Mashauri to death. The Tanzanian court convicted him of hacking to death a 5-year-old girl for muti-related purposes. – Fanuel Hadzizi is the Gender Links Justice Programme Officer

Post published in: News
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