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Published On: Sat, Oct 22nd, 2016

Ex-Minister Chigwedere witchcraft case, litmus test for the law

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IN December 2015, Zimbabweans woke up to news that former Education minister Aeneas Chigwedere had been dragged to court by his son, Mangwiza, accusing him of possessing goblins that he claimed were tormenting the family.

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Mangwiza wanted the courts to grant Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association permission to get rid of the goblins, but Marondera magistrate, Shane Kubonera dismissed the case, saying it was spiritual and could not be handled by the courts.

“What are you saying your worship, so you say there is no case here while family members are perishing? What about all the family members, who are now mentally challenged as a result of witchcraft being practised by this man (Chigwedere)?” Mangwiza said before leaving the courtroom a dejected man.

Mangwiza felt he was robbed and accused the magistrate of applying general law instead of customary law.

He has since approached the High Court, where he believes his matter will be treated in a fair manner, failure of which, he said he would approach the Constitutional Court.

“I personally feel that there is great bias in the judgment as to the laws applied and proceedings that took place.
The respondent’s lawyer is there to protect his client, though he is not the only one blocking justice, but mainly it is the learned presiding officer, Shane Kubonera,” read the papers filed by Mangwiza at the High Court (HC3401/16) on April 1.

Mangwiza has been criticised by people, who believed it was taboo to drag one’s father to court, let alone accuse him of witchcraft.

Harare lawyer, Jacob Mafume said Mangwiza had no case to prove, since he was still living in “the Stone Age era”.

“Those are medieval concepts that are based on conjecture, suspicion and the need for people to attribute their failure or misfortune to greater powers they cannot understand. It is an unsustainable concept, has no place in modern society and should be relegated to conspiracy pages. A modern society cannot waste State resources talking about witchcraft. The magistrate was more than right,” he opined.

Chigwedere, a Zanu PF stalwart, is being accused alongside his wife, Emilia Zharare, Mangwiza’s stepmother.
Mangwiza told NewsDay Weekender that he felt cheated by the courts.

“It is a problem comparing general law with customary law. General law is of statutes and follows a set of guidelines or rules whereas a customary law is not really written down, but is passed on from generation to generation and it is different in this nation, as it depends on which tribe you belong to,” he said.

“Everyone is free to practice a culture of their own choice, but it should be culture that does not harm or disadvantage others. Once it starts doing that then it is no longer culture but witchcraft.”

Mangwiza believes that exploitation of the customary law has also been fuelled by the current economic hardships and “greed”.

“Customary law is effective, but it’s not the case in this country due to the economic hardships and of people, as nowadays many tend to weigh the pockets of the individual rather than the case. Our case has taken many six feet under and even telling the courts we are at their mercy and they are our last port of call, our only hope. They throw out the case without even hearing of it and one wonders what it means by to serve and to protect,” he said.

Harare lawyer and researcher, Tichawana Nyahuma, said witchcraft was a criminal offence according to the law.

“Sections 97 to 102 of the criminal law code make the practice of witchcraft a criminal offence, as you are aware and my reading of this is that it is in the criminal court that the son would have found relief, but off course the issue of evidence comes in. I do not think that there is a remedy under civil law for witchcraft,” he said.

“In the past, we had the Suppression of Witchcraft Act, which was in actual fact denial of the existence of witchcraft. But these sections in the criminal law code are acknowledging that witchcraft exists but I have never heard a case where someone has been convicted.”

According to section 98 of the Criminal Law (Codification) and Reform Act, any person who engages in witchcraft to instil fear or harm someone will be jailed for five years or liable to pay a fine.

In his research titled Witchcraft and the Law In Zimbabwe, the late sociologist and traditional healer, Gordon Chavhunduka said it is difficult to prove witchcraft in formal courts.

“There is conflict on the subject of witchcraft between the traditional courts and the formal courts. Traditional courts agree that witches exist, while the formal courts say witches do not exist,” he wrote.

“Traditional courts, as I have already pointed out, accept the view that witches existed in the past, once an individual was found guilty of practising witchcraft, he or she was sentenced by the court. The sentence took various forms. In extreme cases, the witch was beaten or even killed.”

For now, Mangwiza’s hopes lie in the the High Court.-Newsday

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