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© 2018 Dr Margaret Sheppard

Witchcraft Trial 1978

During my fieldwork there was a big Witchcraft Trial. In September 1978 the Chief's uncle died and was buried with a Christian burial service in the Royal Cemetery in Kanye. In November four people, two men and two women, were found "stuck" to the grave in the early morning. Apparently they were sorcerers who had been trying to exhume the grave. (Human flesh is supposed to be a potent ingredient of sorcery and the flesh of a Chief is believed to be particularly potent). The grave had been specially doctored by the Chief's traditional doctors to protect it, and these "protections" had had the above effect on the sorcerers. These four people were then arrested. One of the women was even an ex-student of the secondary school in Kanye, and now a primary teacher. The tribal police then searched each of their homes, confiscating any suspected sorcery equipment, and taking it to the kgotla. The sorcerers were then put on display with their equipment and the rest of the village was called to view them in their disgrace.

The sorcery equipment consisted of human parts (particularly skulls and sexual organs), dead baboons and hyenas etc. Students flocked to the kgotla one of the male sorcerers was popularly believed to have killed several people, in fact all of these individuals had long been suspected of sorcery. Stones were thrown and it was feared that they would be killed by the crowd that rapidly became a mob, so members of the public were then dismissed. However the windows of the home of that man were stoned.

Those sorcerers who had been caught then started revealing the names of their companions and the tribal police arrested many other sorcerers, searching their homes each time. A certain red pick-up truck was even hired for this work, and whenever people saw it approaching they would rush to follow it to see who would be the next to be arrested, and they watched with interest when sorcery equipment was carried from a house. I witnessed two sorcerers being arrested and what struck me was the poverty of their houses. Both lived in badly maintained houses - "Woman's thatch" rondaveIs, with no modern windows.

One who lived in a house in a particularly bad state of repair, with no fence around the yard, was said to be a notorious sorcerer, and was even reputed to have recently paid two cattle for some human flesh to make her sorcery stronger and more powerful.

For some days the various sorcerers were on trial and on public display at the Chief's kgotla. However two were badly injured whilst going home at the end of the day. One had her ear badly cut when she was hit by a stone and had to rush to the hospital for shelter. The crowd (mostly school children) then tried to force an entrance into the hospital. Things began to get out of control and various innocent old people were stoned and threatened by school aged children, accusing them of being sorcerers. The trials then seemed to fizzle out. Apparently the government intervened and ordered them to be stopped as they would bring disrepute to the country abroad.

However very often people do not seek a trial after the sorcerer causing their problems has been identified by divination. They rely much more on strengthening their protections, or using protections that reflect the sorcerer's sorcery onto herself/himself. Protection plays a very important part in the Zion Churches as well.