Ritual killings a cause for concern


LAST week I visited Choma, a southern remote community in Zambia, where my maternal grandmother comes from.
On arrival, I was greeted by a sombre atmosphere.
A 10-year-old boy had been murdered and his skull opened, the tongue pulled out and his genitals removed.
Mourners told me he was a victim of medicine murder and he was not the only one; the murderers had struck before killing at least two adults and a 13-year-old girl early in the year.
The villagers said it was common in Zambia and Malawi to have people killed for their body parts.
Although the practice is not widespread in Zimbabwe, there have been isolated reports of children getting kidnapped, killed and their body parts sold for ‘medicines’ and witchcraft purposes in South Africa and other southern African countries.
There have been reports in the media of human body parts found in business people’s fridges or premises.
But these incidences are not as pronounced as those in countries like Zambia, Malawi, Nigeria and Tanzania where albinos are murdered for body parts which are believed to bring luck and increase fortunes.
According to Wikipedia, ‘medicine murder’ means the killing of a human being in order to remove body parts to use as medicine or for magical purposes in witchcraft.
Medicine murder is not viewed as a form of human sacrifice in a religious sense, because the motivation is not the death of a human or the effecting of magical changes through the death of a human being, but the obtaining of an item or items from the corpse to be used in traditional medicine.
Victims vary widely in age and social standing.
They are often children or elderly people, as well as male or female.
In some instances, the victim is identified and ‘purchased’ via a transaction involving an often nominal amount of money.
The victim is then abducted, often at night, and taken to an isolated place, often in the bush if the murder is being committed in a rural area.
It is usually intended that the victim be mutilated while conscious, so that the medicine can be made more powerful through the agony experienced by the victim.
Body parts removed include soft tissue, brain, scrotum, eyelids, lips, genitalia and ears, although there have been instances where entire limbs have been severed.
Since the 1970s, the manner in which medicine murder is practiced has changed, although the continued practice of medicine murder demonstrates that belief in human flesh as a powerful medicinal component remains strong in some communities.
It would appear that medicine murder in the 18th and 19th centuries may have been considered the legitimate domain of traditional chiefs and leaders in order to improve agriculture and protect against war.
Medicine murder in southern Africa has been documented in some small detail in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.
Historically, body parts murders took place during the earlier parts of modern Western medicine.
Research has indicated that the practice is commonly associated with witchcraft, although ethnographic evidence suggests that this has not always been the case, and that it may have been accorded local-level political sanction.
Medicine murder is difficult to describe concisely as it has changed over time, involving an ever-greater variety of perpetrator, victim, method and motive.
Perpetrators are usually men, although women have been known to be involved as well.
An individual or group of individuals commission(s) a traditional healer or n’anga to assist by concocting medicine (muti).
The medicine supposedly strengthens the ‘personality’ or personal force of the person who commissions the medicine.
This increased personal force enables the person to ‘excel’ in business, politics or other spheres of influence.
However, there is no actual evidence to prove that medicine murder has real benefits but is simply a heinous crime.


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