Dept, healers declare war on muthi killings

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Pretoria- When the badly decomposed body of 10-year-old Masego Kgomo was found in a dense clump of bushes near her Soshanguve home earlier this year, residents of the close knit community were up in arms and believed a sangoma in the area was responsible for her untimely death.

The sangoma and six others have since been charged with her abduction, rape and murder.

Recently, the Department of Women, Children, Youth and People with Disabilities, held discussions with the National Traditional Healers Organisation to discuss ways in which to curb the growing number of people who are killed by what many describe as witchcraft.

Department spokesman, Sibani Mngadi, said while the subject of witchcraft continues to be taboo in many corners of South Africa, all stakeholders need to be involved in exposing perpetrators of this practice.

"The problem is that these incidents have happened over time with no public engagement on the issue," said Mngadi. "It cannot continue to be a shameful subject that no-one is prepared to talk about. For us, it is crucial as it affects women, children and persons with disabilities."

An Indaba will be held next month to discuss appropriate solutions and ways in which to fight this crime.

He said: "There have been some localised initiatives to either understand or respond to the problem. We need to understand this problem from a national perspective as it has affected many areas in the country and find appropriate solutions."

For the Traditional Healers Organisation National co-ordinator, Phephisile Maseko, witchcraft is all about greed and jealousy. She said unless there are leaders in government, who are willing to lead the fight against witchcraft, legitimate traditional healers are not going to get over this hurdle.

"There is a notion that says "If I kill so and so, I will be able to live the life that they live." Witchcraft is all about greed and jealousy, it is a huge problem in South Africa and legitimate traditional healers are being victimized," she said.

In March 2007, a gang of alleged serial killers and a sangoma were arrested after a spate of killings that left nine women dead in the KwaMakhutha, Adams Mission, Umbumbulu and Folweni areas in KwaZulu-Natal. Police said at the time that each of the women had been found with body parts such as ears, tongues, breasts and genitalia missing. Some of them had been raped before being killed.

"Ninety percent of cases involve women," said Maseko. "Women are either killed or accused by their communities of practicing witchcraft. This is not traditional healing but a crime and it cannot be wiped out if we don't work together."

University of KwaZulu-Natal Chair of Indigenous Health Care Systems Research, Professor Nceba Gqaleni, said witchcraft forms part of the trade of trafficking of human body parts. He said unless regulatory frameworks are put in place, the crime will continue.

"This is not within the ethics of traditional healing and traditional healers that I work with have expressed disgust. They do not have the mechanisms to deal with this," said Gqaleni.

He added: "To use a body part as medicine is criminal, it is not traditional healing. Good intelligence gathering to understand what drives and motivates it and who is behind it is needed."

According to Professor Gerard Labuschagne of the SAPS Investigative Psychology Unit, some provinces, such as Limpopo, have task teams to specifically deal with "muthi murders".

He said: "On certain training courses, members are taught specifically to identify and investigate muthi murders. [There] are no accurate records to determine how many cases occur per year, as every murder is recorded as a murder and not by motive.

"Many cases also might not be identified as being muthi related due to composition before the body is found, predators that may eat a body destroying wound sites and mutilation that might be as a result of overkill or mutilation for non-muthi related purposes."

Said Mngadi: "This is a practice hidden in mystery and therefore there will be a need for more research to better understand the underlying factors. The Ministry is calling upon everyone who may be interested in contributing to the efforts to address this problem to contact the Ministry."

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