Lay people in Zambia are taking the lead in protecting women and other vulnerable individuals who have been accused of witchcraft after sickness, death and other serious events afflicted their local communities. Archbishop Ignatius Chama of Kasama told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need that increasing lay participation in Zambia included running social justice projects helping women accused of witchcraft.
The prelate described how those accused of witchcraft can be beaten – often to obtain a confession of their crimes – and crops, animals and other possessions confiscated.
While it is very unusual for the accused to be put to death individuals accused of witchcraft were killed in 2009 and 2011. In June 2011 40-year-old Ketha Chungu of Kaputa District, Northern Province, was beaten to death after being suspected of killing three-year-old Beauty Kalwa by magical means.
Archbishop Chama said: “Witch hunting is still a big problem in most of the communities.
But we have our Justice and Peace teams, who are trying to conscientise the people, raise their awareness concerning this issue.”
Archbishop Chama said superstition was the root of these problems and explained that more catechesis was needed, so that people turn to God in times of suffering instead of believing their problems were caused by witchcraft. He said: “We are getting somewhere but it’s rooted in the way people respond to the problems of suffering.”
Archbishop Chama added: “When a Christian is faced with problems, the way of tackling those problems may be one that goes back to the way that our ancestors tackled those problems. For example in the area of witchcraft and witch-hunting – when they are faced with the problem of sickness, the problem of death, they would rather move to witch-hunting as an explanation of those problems.”
But, Archbishop Chama explained that lay people were resolving situations where women were accused of sorcery by using the law.
He said: “I think we are getting somewhere because they are invoking the civil law, the police, the judges – because, of course, in our country there is a law on witchcraft and our Justice and Peace people are invoking this law and educating people about this law.”
Under Zambia’s Witchcraft Act anyone who accuses another person of being a wizard or witch, or causing death, injury or other damage by supernatural means can be fined or imprisoned for up to a year. Individuals setting themselves up as witch-finders or claiming supernatural powers in order to cause fear or injury can also be punished under the law.
Archbishop Chama said: “I am sure the lay people are making headway, except in some communities which are remote from the urban areas. It’s the laity who are driving this business of Justice and Peace, in our two dioceses – Kasama and Mpika – we have put it under the Caritas department. The people in the parishes are the ones who are in the forefront, moving all the programmes forward.”