Witchcraft, Ritual Murder and “Muti”
The issue of ritual killings and witchcraft has existed within our various communities for centuries and is creating a big challenge for both the government and the communities to eradicate this scourge. According to the Ralushai Commission of Inquiry, “…the period 1985 to 1996 was characterised by witchcraft and ritual killings related crimes to a very alarming extent”.
Witchcraft and ritual killing practices are continuing, despite calls coupled with campaigns, made by various stakeholders and concerned community structures. The whole situation is exacerbated by community members trying to take the law into their own hands by tracking and destroying the life and properties of people suspected of practising witchcraft, and those suspected of being engaged in ritual killing.
These tendencies lead to a chaotic situation in which both state and private properties are senselessly destroyed, leaving the community members shocked, terrified and helpless, as well as horrified by this senseless destruction of life and property. Some of the suspected witches are usually chased out of their homes, and in most cases, as police are unable to deal with these situations effectively, some of them end up being held at various police stations.
During the period from 1985 to 1996 great numbers of people were arrested for assault and arson, as well as murder. According to the Ralushai Commission most of these cases were the result of contravening section 1(a) of the Suppression of Witchcraft Act 3 of 1957, which includes pointing out a person as a witch.
The Ralushai Commission and The Limpopo Summit on Ritual Killings both unequivocally indicated that appropriate educational programs and other mitigating measures must be put in place to combat criminal acts related to witchcraft and ritual killings. The establishment of the Shrine at Tshitanini is a good example of the Church’s endeavour to combat these evil practices.
It is our belief as a Church that, although we must respect the different cultural practices within the various communities, we must be on the same wavelength in fighting all cultural practices that destroy life, as these are against the teaching of the Message of Christ.
The Catholic Church considers that any negative culture that destroys life is unacceptable, and as such wants to play a part in getting these practices rooted out, as these beliefs are of no benefit to humanity and render all of us vulnerable. (It must also be mentioned that during the preparation for the Beatification, Tshifudi which is less than 30 km from Tshitanini, was characterised by serious unrest resulting in a number of properties belonging to people who were suspected of ritual killing being destroyed.)
The Blessed Benedict Daswa Pilgrimage Centre will be our response to the call of playing a meaningful role in the fight against these unhealthy practices. The Centre will be a beacon of hope, providing the community with a place where people can be educated and learn the importance of the preservation of life. It will also provide an important Centre for worship, as well as healing, both spiritual and physical.
The prevailing poverty, coupled with under-development and lack of appropriate education, creates a fertile ground for these destructive beliefs. This Centre, established in an isolated rural area of Tshitanini, will help to combat the scourge of ritual killings and witchcraft.
In conclusion, it must also be indicated that this Centre is going to attract people from the different parts of South Africa, as well as people from the Southern African States. This is shown by a number of people who currently want to visit Nweli for prayer and worship where the remains of Blessed Tshimangadzo Samuel Benedict Daswa are currently laid awaiting transfer to the Shrine. Pilgrims in growing numbers will also contribute to providing some of the much-needed economic spin-off for the whole of Vhembe Region, in particular for Tshitanini.