Thursday, July 06, 2006

Zimbabwe has lifted a ban on the practice of witchcraft, repealing legislation dating back to colonial rule

Steve Vickers:

From July the government acknowledges that supernatural powers exist - 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.

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