Africa: Breaking the silence in ritual killings (2011 article)

Browsing on internet I found this 2011 article written by Fanuel Hadzizi from Zimbabwe. The article could have been written in the year 2000, or much earlier, and even nowadays, in the year 2020 !

I find it encouraging reading this article on a topic which it too often swept under the carpet although its main message is a sad one. The author pleads to break the silence on ritual killings in Africa and points to several cases of ritual killings in Southern Africa to warrant his plea. He concludes “It is time governments turn up the heat on culprits and put an end to this violation of human rights.”

What else can I say? Highly recommended – read ‘AFRICA: BREAKING THE SILENCE IN RITUAL KILLINGS’ by Fanuel Hadzizi, Gender Links Justice Program Officer of PeaceWomen. Peacewomen is the Women, Peace and Security Program of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), the oldest women’s peace organization in the world. 

Warning: The following article contains graphic details of ritual murders (FVDK)

Africa: Breaking the silence in ritual killings

Published: September 26, 2011
By: Peace WomenFanuel Hadzizi

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

In Zambia, there have been cases whereby 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 for instance, 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. 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 yet 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 (SADC) 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 one township in Zimbabwe. This was just when public transport in the form of the Toyota Hiace taxi had just been introduced in the country. At that tender 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 some sweets.

The next thing, their bodies would be found in the bushes with some body parts missing. Rumours were that business people were taking the children’s heads for instance to Durban in South Africa and were trading them off for the taxis. Weren’t we all scared!

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. Research has shown that in other countries, especially in East Africa, the breast and a woman’s private parts enhance business success, a man’s private parts are believed to increase virility whilst a tongue can smooth one’s path to a lover’s heart.

In fact, 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. I felt a very cold chill down my spine as I read through the story with shock and disbelief. Even after reading it twice I still found myself at a loss for words, trying to comprehend how a person could execute such a diabolic act moreover to a sibling without any conscience.

The South African case highlighted above is but the tip of the iceberg to 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 turn up the heat on culprits and put an end to this violation of human rights. Heavy sentences should be given to those who commission as well as 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 for hacking to death a 5 year old girl for muti-related purposes.

Fanuel Hadzizi is the Gender Links Justice Program Officer of Peace Women,

Source: Africa: Breaking the silence in ritual killings

Eleven ritual murderers hanged (1953, Basutoland, nowadays Lesotho)

The ritual murder case referred to in the text below is a very old one: over 65 years.  The reason why I include it here is two-fold.

First, because it is a case of ritual murder that reveals the ‘social’ motives of the culprits: to protect the interests of the community (village). Historically, ritual murders were human sacrifices meant to safeguard the interests of the family or community.

The second reason is that it clearly illustrates why, for the present blog, I use the method of ‘copy-paste’ of the entire, original article (with explicit mention of the source and author of the article). In the past – for my website on Liberia – I summarized the contents of articles on ritual murders in African countries and added a link to the source. Unfortunately, after a number of years I discovered that links had vanished, expired, got lost in cyberspace causing an irreparable loss. Valuable material for researchers has thus been lost. To avoid this in the future I have decided to reproduce here the original articles  that are being published.  

For this reason I can only include here the text as published on my Liberia website. However, the text is clear and hopefully it may ever happen that it contributes to more information on this particular murder case. (Webmaster FVDK)

Eleven ritual murderers hanged (Maseru, Basutoland, 1953) 

Basutoland was a British Crown colony established in 1884. It was renamed the Kingdom of Lesotho upon its independence from the United Kingdom on 4 October 1966.
Source: Wikipedia

An African headman, Pheelo Smith, desperately needed a human sacrifice to save his villagers’ crops. He chose his father-in-law as the victim, and the whole of the village of Maseru in Basutoland (now Lesotho) turned out to watch the ritual murder.
Forty-two people were charged with being implicated in the crime, although 11 were finally charged with murder. Eight of them made a break-out from custody and fought a pitched battle with the police before they were recaptured.
All 11 – nine men, who included headman Pheelo Smith, and two women – were hanged on Thursday, August 20th, 1953, at Maseru Prison.

Source: Not only in Liberia – Ritual killing in Lesotho

Lesotho: death sentence in ritual murder case (2006)

The case reproduced below refers to the trial of Sepeni Popo who in 2006 was found guilty of killing a Molepolole woman, Binki Balotlegi, in what was believed to be a ritual murder. Sepeni Popo was sentenced to death.

I first reported this case – many, many years ago – on my website ‘Liberia: Past & Present of Africa’s oldest Republic‘, notably on the page ‘Ritual killings in other Sub-Saharan countries: Lesotho‘. The case of Sepeni Popo is one of the rare cases still available online. Unfortunately, most links referring to cases of ritual murders reported on these country pages have gone missing over the years, reason why I decided to adopt another approach on the present web site: reproducing literally the articles concerned, but with extensive reference to its origin, giving the original author and publishing house or web site all credits they are entitled to.
(Webmaster FVDK).  

Published: July 26, 2007
By: Lekopanye Mooketsi  

Death row inmate fails to get Court of Appeal reprieve 

The fate of death row inmate, Sepeni Popo lies with President Festus Mogae, after he failed to get a reprieve at the Court of Appeal this week. The condemned prisoner can only escape the hangman’s noose if the President exercises his prerogative of mercy to save him. But Mogae, a confessed retributionist, has never pardoned a death row convict.

Popo was sentenced to death last year, by the Lobatse High Court for killing a Molepolole woman, Binki Balotlegi in what was believed to be a ritual murder. He confessed that he was promised P1,000 for the murder. Three other men who were charged with him were later acquitted and discharged of murder.

In his appeal, Popo’s lawyer, Themba Joina argued that the trial judge, Ian Kirby was wrong in failing to recuse himself and that the confession statement by his client was wrongly admitted in court.

He submitted that the judge should have found extenuating circumstances and refrained from passing a death sentence. The defence wanted Kirby to recuse himself from the case because at the time it was registered, he was the Attorney General and as result he might have been an interested party.  However, the Court of Appeal ruled that there was no need for Kirby to recuse himself since he did not directly deal with the case when he was Attorney General.

Joina argued that there was no evidence that Popo had been advised of his right to legal representation before the confession statement was taken. He added that the court erred in not ordering a trial within a trial before admitting the confession statement.

Joina submitted that the hand written statement was not produced in court and there was no evidence as to what happened to it.  He said the original statement was the only document which could prove to the court what actually transpired when the confession was made.

The Court of Appeal ruled that that it was clear from the evidence that Popo freely and voluntarily made the statement to a judicial officer. The court was of the view  that this was a particularly brutal murder and the injuries were horrible.

The court ruled that the murder was deliberately planned for a reward. In dismissing the appeal, the judges said there was no evidence to diminish Popo’s moral culpability.

In his confession statement, Popo said a man asked him and his colleagues to get a baboon without fur. He said when they asked him what he meant, the man said he wanted them to find a woman’s private parts for him.
Popo said each of them was promised P1,000 after delivering the goods.  
He said he later arranged with his accomplices to find out what the man was looking for. He went into detail about how they found their prey.

After a drinking session, they later led a woman to an isolated spot where they brutally attacked her. Popo said after they killed the woman, one of his partners cut off a piece of her private parts.

He said they parted after the job was finished and he went to sleep.   Panic struck him the following morning when he realised that his cap was missing.
“When I recalled carefully I came to the conclusion that it was left at the crime scene,” he said.

The confession statement narrates what Popo did up to the time when police spoke to him, including washing his clothes to remove blood stains.  He told the judicial officer about his unsuccessful attempts to get the promised payment after the mission was accomplished.

Source: Death row inmate fails to get Court of Appeal reprieve