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

© 2018 Dr Margaret Sheppard

Ritual Murder

As  already stated, human parts are believed to be a powerful ingredient of sorcery.  Such parts are also rumoured to be used in traditional medicines such as those that are to bring success in, for example, a new business such as a bottle store, butchery, pharmacy etc. High prices are allegedly paid for parts of human bodies, and various trading is rumoured to take place.

These parts are probably "normally" obtained by exhuming graves, especially those of small children that are traditionally buried  in yards. That is why such graves of small children are never marked. Stories abound of hyenas (the transport of sorcerers) being sighted at the various Kanye graveyards. There were also  various  cases of ritual murder during the years of my fieldwork.

An example of such a case was in 1980 when the body of a Sangoma (a South African female traditional healer) was found in a mutilated state outside Kanye. The sexual organs were among the parts missing. Eventually a woman was charged - an ex-nurse who was about to open a new pharmacy business. It was popularly believed that she had murdered this woman» who had also been pregnant, to obtain the foetus as well as the woman's body. As the dead woman was a sangoma she was believed to be particularly powerful for ingredients of sorcery. The arrested woman was popularly believed to want the parts to concoct medicines to make her business powerful and successful.

However» when the case eventually went to court in Lobatse as a murder case, the defendant was represented by a lawyer who claimed that the deceased had died during an unsuccessful operation to perform an abortion. Then  he stated the defendant panicked and tried to cover up the abortion (which is illegal in Botswana) by attempting to make it look like a ritual murder. That was the version of events that was accepted in court and the woman was sentenced to four years imprisonment for performing an illegal abortion and for manslaughter. However many people did not accept this decision. As they pointed out, it did not seem likely to be true as the deceased had several children already, there is also no stigma against so-called illegitimate children. The claim that she had wanted the abortion because the child was not for her separated husband, was also unlikely as this child  was by no means the first child she would be having outside her former marriage. It was said that the accused would be punished by the Sangoma society - in fact the accused started to have terrible visions of the dead woman and her Ancestors quite soon after the death!!!

Various other dead bodies were found during my fieldwork period, allegedly with parts missing (i.e. they had been victims of ritual murder). There were also certain very successful local businesses that were supposed to have been "opened" with medicines containing human parts to make them successful. One particularly successful restaurant and general dealer was supposed to have been "opened" with the body of the owner's first born son. The sacrifice of the first born child is also believed to bring about success in any enterprise - Sorcerers when they train are supposed to kill their first born children to make themselves successful.

Concluding Remarks

However it should be mentioned that much of the information here could only be gathered by rumours and informants describing how they themselves  were affected by the actions of sorcerers. Naturally I was unable to interview any sorcerers about their activities although I knew several people who were alleged to be sorcerers, and once whilst walking in the village I observed one at work late at night!

Some of the stories about them may sound ridiculous but they have been included because they appear to be seriously believed by many people and because of this belief and the fear of sorcery, attempting to avert it is a major concern of people.

This is the main business of traditional doctors - to avert sorcery (preventative) and drive away its effects (curative). Mission churches do not fulfil this function, therefore many mission church members  have to consult traditional doctors, and traditional doctors are even members of the churches (although they may receive their power from Ancestors).

On the other hand Zion Churches do recognize the existence of sorcery and as will be seen in the sections on these Zion Churches many of their activities are based on this belief - they protect and cure members from the effects of sorcery. Because they offer these services their members do not have such a need for traditional medicine except in special cases. In this way as will be seen the Zion Church is able to offer more of an alternative "total" system for most of the occasions when traditional medicine is needed.

However the main exceptions on which there is no Zion service or practice are:- the curing of widows, tlhowana, and certain tribal occasions such as Dikgafela (although for the latter there is a Seed service, but Zion Church members  are still required to attend and participate in, the tribal traditional occasion).