Coffin “pointing” to alleged witch triggers mob attack …. Church condemns brutality amidst two separate “witch-hunts”

Eba Kandovazu

A TRADITIONAL Kaokoland ritual in which family members of a departed member carry the casket at the burial site, asking it to point in the direction of those responsible for the death, has led to the arrest of eight people, after a 61-year-old man was beaten up last Saturday on allegations of witchcraft.

Kunene Police Commander, James Nderura, says the victim was beaten up by his family members at Otjakati Tjovahimba village, who accused him of being responsible for the death of his 17-year-old nephew. “It is a tradition for the Himba people. What happens is that people carry the coffin around, asking the corpse to lead them in the direction of the person(s) responsible for killing them. People believe the casket and points them to the person. The tradition is usually practiced when there is suspicion of witchcraft. The man was beaten up with sticks and stones on his back and legs,” Nderura informs.

Adding that the deceased got ill and was subsequently transferred to Oshakati State Hospital where he died.

According to Nderura, the eight suspects, all related to the victim, include three minors aged 15 who all appeared in court this afternoon. The minors were released into the care of their caretakers by Magistrate Abel Sankwasa.

The rest of the suspects were denied bail on the grounds of the seriousness of the case and because investigations are still in an early stage. The State also fears the suspects will interfere with investigations. The incident comes barely two days after a cuca shop belonging to an elderly woman from Kavango West, Sindimba Nepembe (61), was set alight by six people who accused her of bewitching her own 16-year old granddaughter who died on 31 December last year.

In that incident, the suspects were granted N$3000 bail each after they appeared before Magistrate Barry Mufana. It is reported that the deceased father, before her death consulted a self proclaimed prophet who informed him that Nepembe was responsible for his daughter’s ill health.

In a twist of events, while police officers attended to the incident, the mob also turned to a vehicle belonging to the police and damaged it, leading to charges of malicious damage to state property. In that charge, the suspects were granted N$ 1000 bail each.

Reacting to the two “witch-hunt” incidents, Acting General Secretary of the Council of Churches in Namibia (CCN), Ludwig Beukes, says they do not support so called churches who accuse people of bewitching people, saying it goes against the values of Christianity. Beukes also calls on traditional leaders to educate community members on incidences relating to witchcraft claims.

“Some of these so called churches cause division amongst family members. The values and norms of Christian churches are not those kind of values where a pastor has to say who and who is bewitching people. That is why we tell people to be very careful. Not every church or prophet is a true prophet. We have false prophets who come up with these things to even divide families. This is not practiced in the Christian faith. They call themselves churches but they are doing typical things that typical witch doctors do and that is not the true church,” Beukes says.

He further cautions public members to desist from naivety, adding that such incidences have also contributed to the high number of divorce rates in the country. Last year, three family members died after a concussion of methylated spirits, salt and vinegar was inserted in their rectums by a self-proclaimed prophet at Nkurenkuru.

The prophet, his assistant and their wives were arrested shortly after. The women were however released on bail as they are nursing babies. Nampol Inspector General, Sebastian Ndeitunga, could not be reached for comment as he was in meetings.

By Observer