Sorcery Sorcery Types Examples of Sorcery Protection and Punishment Witchcraft Trial Ritual Murder

© 2018 Dr Margaret Sheppard

Examples of Sorcery

There were several cases of reputed sorcery during my fieldwork. For example soon after I arrived» in July 1978 a young woman in a nearby sub-kgotla became suddenly ill after she had eaten porridge that her husband's mother's sister had given her. She suffered from bad stomach pains, turned yellow, and died soon afterwards, after the hospital had said there was nothing they could do as she had been gIven Tswana poison. The dead woman had been married the previous year. After her death, traditional doctors were called by the family and they found that she had been given poison by her mother-in-law's sister, who was believed in the kgotla to be a powerful socerer. Apparently her motive for killing the woman was because she had wanted the dead woman's husband (her nephew) to marry one of her daughters this would have been a traditionally preferred marriage. However in 1976  the widower had had a child with the dead woman whom he had chosen to marry. The sorcerer had then caused a fire at his family's Lands by bewitching one of the younger children to go into the house and set it on fire, everything had been burnt inside the house, including money. (This is a common method used by sorcerers - to bewitch one of the victim's own family to carry the poison . The idea of this is so that the "protections" of the home that is being attacked will then attack the bewitched member of the family.)

However, despite this the man had married the woman he had chosen for himself, and the poisoned porridge in 1978 was the sorcerer’s reaction to that marriage, to his wife.

In another neighbouring sub-kgotla there were many widows, most of the husbands and adult men being dead. This was reputedly due to the action of the various women who had bewitched, through jealousy and retaliation, each other's husbands and working sons, to die. The sorcerer who is mentioned above (who killed her nephew's wife) was one of these sorcerers. During my fieldwork one of the last surviving husbands died, officially of T.B. which he refused to have regularly treated (probably through lack of understanding), but this was popularly attributed to the action of the kgotla's sorcerers. He himself had been a traditional doctor, who as he was dying, had started to confess to supplying the various widows with poisons to bewitch each other and also those living in the other dikgdtla. One of the cases he admitted to at this time, was of bewitching one of my neighbours who before her marriage came from that kgotla. In December 1978, this lady had a badly infected elbow. Apparently she began to suffer from this after mixing mud to make walls for her son's coming wedding. She was eventually cured by traditional doctors after the hospital had failed to cure her.

The traditional doctors had divined that she had been poisoned by sorcery that had been hidden in the mud she had been mixing. The mud had been dug the day before and sorcerers had come in the night to place their sorcery, which they had obtained from the other dead traditional doctor. (Normally the mud is dug daily to avoid this opportunity for sorcerers to attack.) The sorcerers came from the woman's own kgotla (the same as the traditional doctor's) and their motive was jealousy of the family's wealth and the marriages of their children. Zion prophets had also seen this in their prophecy (the oldest son from the family was a Zionist.)

In November 1979 a woman from this same kgotla (where the sorcerers lived) had a baby that died. This was apparently the sixth child she had had, that had died. Her older brother had made a girl in this same kgotla pregnant and then refused to marry her. The girl's mother, a sorcerer, had then retaliated by bewitching the man's sister to die and not have live children so that she would not be married.

In December 1979 the younger sister of the girl who helped me (who also came from that kgotla) nearly died of T.B. When she had become really sick at the Lands, a traditional doctor had been called. He had said that she was bewitched by the same sorcerer who had killed the young wife (see above) and also another sorcerer from that same kgotla. During the funeral of the traditional doctor (see above) the panties of that girl had been stolen. They had bewitched her to die because they were jealous of her mother (the only child of the dead traditional doctor) who would inherit all his possessions. They were also jealous of the sister who worked for me - of her job with a foreigner, although she was illiterate - and of her engagement.

Another of these on-going cases, I first noticed in January 1979. The son from a neighbouring kgotla was killed when the lorry he was travelling in over-turned. He was in the Botswana Defence Force, and the B.D.F. lorry he was in was in collision with another lorry after returning from a border patrol during the Zimbabwe War. Apparently he was the only person to die in the accident, although others were injured. The young man had apparently first been bewitched some years before, when he was in Standard VII, by relatives. After he had recovered from the resultant illness he had stayed away from Kanye with his relatives in Gaborone. After joining the B.D.F. he had been sent for courses in Europe and China and after returning from these courses in 1978 he had paid his first visit to Kanye in several years, in December 1978. The traditional doctors who were consulted after his death had said that it was on this occasion, while he was visiting Kanye, that he was bewitched to die in the accident. In May 1981, the paternal uncle of this B.D.F. man also died. Officially his death was caused by hepatitis, but it was commonly attributed to sejeso (poison). He was admitted to the hospital and died there. The traditional healer of hepatitis had even refused him her cure (this was supposed to be part of the sorcery). The traditional doctor who was called to divine after his death also said that the paternal uncle had been killed by his brother, the father of the dead B.D.F. boy. At the time of the first death the paternal uncle had been accused of the death. The rest of his family were very scared as they feared that they too would be killed. Apparently some years previously the paternal uncle had been working in the mines and had sent much of his money to his father to buy him cattle. Then, when it was time to divide the cattle, the two brothers had quarrelled over the allocation and had had several inconclusive kgotla cases which had then led to them bewitching each other. The case became even more complicated when a traditional doctor who lived in that same kgotla (a cousin of the dead B.D.F. man) had given the dead B.D.F. man medicines to protect himself. His mother had then stolen some of these medicines and tried to bewitch the traditional doctor with them because she was jealous of his cattle. As according to custom he had doctored his medicines against anyone doing just this, they had then harmed the B.D.F. boy and acted against him, instead of as protection when he was endangered.

It is common also to bewitch men working in the mines to have accidents or meet with some misfortune. Again this is due to the jealousy, usually of relatives, as men are able to earn a lot of money as miners, and there are many examples in Kanye of the resultant riches. Many of the shops in Kanye were started with capital earned in the mines, as were also the various bus services; it is common for miners to build modern houses which are the envy of everyone as well as buying cattle.

For example in December 1979, one informant told me how her brother had been working in the mines. Then while there he had had P260 stolen, and also his passport, so that he could not collect any more money due to him. Then when he returned to Botswana to take a replacement passport, his brother's lorry had overturned and the brother had had to  be admitted to the main hospital in Botswana with broken ribs (i.e. he would be unable to work for several months in the mines). Then while the other brother was waiting to return to the mines he had spent the night with his sister at the Cattle post. Then during that night sorcerers had entered the house and nearly choked him, first causing the sister to sleep heavily. In the morning he was unable to rise. When their traditional doctor was called, he found that the man was being bewitched to die by the girl he was engaged to and with whom he had five children. She had apparently decided to marry another man and therefore had decided to kill him in order to avoid having to repay all the things he had given her.

Another example of this reason for bewitching happened in the kgotla where I lived. In January 1978 a young man working in the mines was killed in an accident in the mines. The traditional doctor called by his parents revealed that he had been bewitched by jealous relatives.

In 1980 a miner from a neighbouring kgotla met with a bad accident in the mines. This was attributed, by the traditional doctor, to the fact that his wife was bewitching him through being unfaithful during his absence. It was also seen that he was being bewitched by other sorcerers from his kgotla through jealousy of all his possessions, he had built a new house and bought beautiful furniture and a combi (mini-bus). His kgotla was another kgotla that was supposed to be full of sorcerers.

In December 1979 a girl was found dead in a dam in Kanye. The night before she had been visited by her fiance who apparently then killed her and dragged the body out of the house and dumped it into the dam. This would appear to be a case of straightforward murder, but traditional doctors who were called at both the man's and the woman's kgotla all ”found independently”, that the boy had previously been engaged to another girl with whom he had had two children. Then when he had changed his mind about marrying her, her family had bewitched him so that he had murdered the new girlfriend. On July 21st 1980 he was sentenced to death.

In November 1979 the aunt of one of .my students became very ill after drinking traditional beer. The sorcerer who had given her the beer even boasted about it when the victim asked her what is was she could see at the bottom of the calabash. When the victim became sick the sorcerer even went to her house to return 25t she had borrowed from her and boasted that it was the last thing she would ever give her.

The victim's husband begged the sorcerer to give the victim an antidote, but she refused. She was then reported to the Chief's Kgotla. The tribal police were instructed to take evidence from the dying woman even if it would take them a long time. The unfortunate victim finally died in great agony in the second week of December. The sorcerer was in fact one of the sorcerers who was later arrested during the Witch craft Trial (see below) and was badly stoned.

In July 1981 I encountered a case that involved go neela. A certain family had suffered from a thief stealing corn from their fields during the night. In the morning they would just see the footprints of the thief. They tried to catch the thief but failed, so called a traditional doctor to help them, after about four bags of corn had been stolen in this way. The traditional doctor took earth from the thief's footprints and "treated" it. Some time later a certain sorcerer in my kgotla was threshing corn at her Lands, when she hit herself with the threshing stick. The bruise turned into a sore that refused to heal up and started to go rotten. She was then taken to the hospital and eventually made a recovery. She had apparently been the thief, and the "treatment" of her footprints found in the field where she had been stealing) caused her accident and the injury.

The main methods used by sorcerers in the above cases were sejeso, go neela and sebeela. I also encountered cases where lightning (which also  includes sudden unexplained fires that destroy property etc.), or adverse weather conditions was believed to have been directed against the victim. One such case happened at a nearby shebeen (an illegal drinking house) of some notoriety, in July 1979. A sudden unexplained fire started in the roof of one of the thatched houses, and within about 20 minutes, 2 thatched rondavels were burnt to the ground. When the shebeen queen's husband called his traditional doctor to find out the cause he found that the fire (tladi) was caused by a customer. Apparently the shebeen queen had been “cheating her husband” with a certain customer who had just returned from a mine contract in South Africa, so he had had plenty of money, most of which she had managed to trick out of him through their relationship. When she then had a relationship with another customer he became very angry (all his money from two years of hard work having been used up). The man insulted her and  she then reported him to to the kgotla. In the kgotla case his parents were fined two cattle because their son had insulted a married woman. His parents  agreed to pay the fine but did so unwillingly as they knew their son had been cheated out of the money that should have come to them. They then consulted a traditional doctor who had "sent" this "lightning".

Another case that involved directed lightning occurred in January 1979 during a particularly bad thunderstorm. A house in a neighbouring kgotla was struck and burnt to the ground, despite the efforts of the neighbours and the torrential rain. When a traditional doctor was called, it was found that the lightning had been directed by sorcerers from their kgotla. The family had been suffering badly from sorcery, the previous e.g. year they had had a severe accident with their ox wagon.

In May 1979, a sudden whirlwind blew through our kgotla and nearly took off the roof of one of the houses in the yard of my neighbours. The family had been expecting some trouble ever since April when a certain woman had come to the house and, finding no adult around, had been seen by the children of the home to be digging at the entrance and burying something. When the traditional doctor was called after the whirlwind he 'found" that a group of sorcerers were trying to kill the woman of the home and harm the rest of the family. They were jealous of the supposed success of the family - as they had sent their children to school. The traditional doctor then had to wash all the family to protect them and also to neutralise the effects of the sorcery that had been buried at the entrance. The traditional doctor had "seen" from his bones that the sorcery consisted of poisonous sebeela from the Kgalagadi, and that it had been placed there to attract lightning.

In February 1980 another neighbouring yard was struck by lightning during a storm. One of the daughters was even knocked over by the lightning when she had gone outside to protect the cooking fire from the strong winds. Two other members of the family were struck inside the house and suffered from shock. There were various possibilities as to why they were struck, ranging from the fact that the mother of the house was "stealing" the husbands of many women, so this could be the revenge of a wife(ves), also that the girl who had been badly struck, although illiterate, had managed to obtain a job at the local knitting centre - this was therefore a possible cause of the sorcery, envy of her job.

Another case involving directed lightning happened in January 1980. The father of one of my students died. His wife had been in hospital in Johannesburg, and when he went to see her the shock of her blindness (she was suffering from a cataract) frightened him so much that he had a heart attack and died. Apparently the wife had been a very bad sorcerer, and the year before she had directed lightning to strike her husband's younger brother's house . She had also tried to direct it to kill him and his cattle but this had been seen in time by his traditional doctor. The younger brother had presumably taken steps to protect himself and this death was the result of his protections. The week before he had died, the dead man had had a dream about a snake biting him while he was at his Lands. The next day he had been sighted running fast as though he had been bitten by a snake, then he had tripped and injured his leg. While he was recovering from this accident at his Lands, three of his cattle had been struck by lightning. Then, when he had returned to Kanye very disturbed by all his misfortune, he had been to visit his wife at Johannesburg and the shock of seeing her nearly~blind had led to his collapse and death. All his family's misfortunes were believed to have been caused by the retaliation of the younger brother's "protections"- acting by reflecting his evil intentions back to himself.

It will be noted from these examples that many cases of sorcery involved relatives or neighbours bewitching each other. When A bewitches B, B is already protected by his traditional doctors. So if his protections are strong they may have the effect of reflecting A's attempted sorcery back on  to himself. Or if A succeeds, B may then seek to bewitch A in revenge. Schapera noted that in 90 of the 105 cases of sorcery for which he had adequate data,  the sorcerers and victims were closely related. He writes:-

"... The most common types of relationship were those of husband and wife, parent and child, brother and brother; less commonly, but also fairly frequent, the parties involved were parent-in-law and child's spouse, master and servant, or doctor and client. It is extremely rare for people to be accused of bewitching either strangers or persons living away from their own part of the tribal territory. (Schapera I “Witchcraft and Sorcery” op.cit. Page 118.)

This would appear to be true also in many of the cases I  observed. However with greater mobility nowadays, due to the Unified Government Service, where people have to move to where they are posted, it would appear that a new common source of sorcery is that of prostitutes allegedly using sorcery to attract and keep their clients in order to obtain as much money as possible. There were several such ladies who allegedly gained success in this way. Also rival girlfriends seem to bewitch each other, and in work situations rival employees may bewitch each other either for jobs or promotions. These appear to be new situations since Schapera's time and also include bewitching white foreigners (who are still often in positions of power) in order to gain their favour and bring about promotions etc. Thus the last part of the above statement from Schapera that "it is extremely rare for people to be accused of bewitching strangers or persons living away from their own tribal territory" perhaps needs to be modified in the light of recent experience. The B.D.F. sodier who died was living away from Kanye in the north of Botswana, as were the various miners.

As has been already noted, Batswana protect themselves against the danger of sorcery. However the following analogy made by Schapera places this in perspective:-

" It is often said by Europeans claiming to know something about tribal life that the African lives in perpetual dread of sorcery. It is true that he regards sorcery as an ever-present danger. But he is no more obsessed by fear of it than is the average inhabitant of a large city in Western Europe obsessed by fear of being involved in a traffic accident. Both are dangers that must be faced almost daily; but just as we (Europeans) can avoid a collision by exercising caution, so do the Tswana  believe it is possible  to protect against sorcery.” (Schapera I ”Witchcraft and Sorcery” op.cit. Page 114.)

A local kgotla of mostly widows. It was commonly  believed that they had bewitched each other’s husbands to die so that they would not have support and hence advancement. - There was a very high incidence of T.B. in this kgotla these cases had resulted in deaths.. Notice the deserted yards and houses that had fallen into disrepair as a result.