There is black magic in Lesotho


Enchanted children
(Hartwig Weber and Maren Basfeld, January 2011)

The pastors of the countless evangelical churches, which are sprouting up like mushrooms in villages and towns, stir up panic of witches and demons and at the same time offer themselves as help in overcoming the misery that they themselves have caused. The more evil spirits they track down, the more exorcisms they celebrate, the more successfully they compete with other religious communities. Because whoever defeats the devil is close to God. Incurable witch children must be eliminated, slain, abandoned.

The child witch craze broke out in Nigeria around the year 2000. Supposedly, one recognizes a bewitched child by the fact that he is cheeky from an early age, lies, steals and defies the adults. In the fishing port of the Nigerian city of Ibaka, witch children are said to have gathered in packs, abandoned, sick boys and girls who live on raw fish waste and vegetate in panic fear of killer groups.

Six-year-old Uwe Okwang is lucky in bad luck. At the last moment he was rescued by a social worker from the aid organization "Child Right and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN)". The facility has offered protection to stigmatized children since 2003. It consists of houses and classrooms. The children have stories similar to Uwe's to tell. "The The smallest is two years old, the oldest 15. The faces of many are destroyed by scars, they are left with marks from knives, they have been burned by acid, burn marks cover their bodies. Some are missing finger joints, which their parents cut off so that they could confess In a thirteen-year-old girl, her father drove a nail into the skull, "reports Wolfgang Bauer (ibid. p. 27). 225 children currently populate the center. In their home villages and families, the girls and boys are still considered witches and wizards to this day.

"Bana bandoki"
In sub-Saharan Africa, more and more children are being accused of witchcraft, persecuted, beaten and killed. Most of the "bana bandoki" ("witch children") were cast out by their families and ended up on the streets. They are considered to be magical. Allegedly they use their magical abilities to harm other people. Many adults see them as the embodiment of evil. In Kinshasa, the Congolese capital alone, there are said to be tens of thousands of bewitched children. The Democratic Republic of the Congo with 65 million inhabitants, 70 percent of whom profess Christianity, is the third largest state in Africa and almost seven times the size of Germany. The children affected there are often only nine or ten years old. Because their parents fear that their own offspring will throw them into misery through magic, they are no longer tolerated around, they have to leave their home, family and village. In many cities, but also in the country, you come across thousands of bewitched street children.

Magic and witchcraft are widespread in most cultures around the world and have always been considered a tried and tested means of explaining puzzles, but above all to be able to blame someone for everyday misery, sudden catastrophes or illness and death. This relieves and relativizes the shock of the knowledge of being at the mercy of a fate that does not care a bit about the individual well-being of a person. In their weakness and defenselessness, children are suitable victims of projections, denunciations and persecution. You have to play the role of the scapegoat.

The initiators and beneficiaries of the crazy witchcraft in the African countries south of the Sahara are above all the evangelical churches that are sprouting up from the ground. They cultivate the belief in evil spirits and demonic possession and have the means - especially incantations, blessings, exorcistic rituals - ready to remedy the situation. Almost all currents of African Christianity are fundamentalist, which means that they are convinced of the reality of the devil, demons and spirits. In Nigeria it is mainly clergy of the fundamentalist faith communities who accuse children of being witches. As at the time of the early modern witch persecution in Central Europe, African theologians still adhere to Leviticus 20: 6: "You should not let the sorceresses live." Even Catholic clergymen say that they consecrated candles and powder to their parishioners with which they are supposed to drive away the witches and demons who threaten them.

Tens of thousands of minors are affected by the consequences of the charges. They are beaten, chained, burned, doused with acid and not infrequently killed. Demonology, witchcraft and exorcism work as tried and tested means for self-assertion, demarcation and internal consolidation of religious communities. The belief that there are witches is an integral part of Orthodox African Christianity. Especially those Christian churches, communities and congregations that belong to the Pentecostal movement or are close to its spirit have made a name for themselves in this area: "Mount Zion Lighthouse", "Crusade of the born rulers", "Apostolic Church of Nigeria" " Community of Victors "and" Message of Christ ".

Witchcraft and Occult Violence in Africa
Between 1994 and 1998 in Tanzania alone 5,000 people are said to have fallen victim to the epidemic flare-up and rampant witch hunts (cf. DIE ZEIT, 04.01.2001, p. 28). The belief in witchcraft in Africa is old and, radicalized by the dualistic escalation of Christianity, is still widespread today. However, the phenomenon of the bewitched children, which was virulent in almost every country in Central Europe and North America in the 17th and 18th centuries, has only been observed since around 1990. During this period, the importance of religiosity in general and occultism and sorcery in particular grew considerably in Africa. In some parts of the continent, belief in witches is more relevant today than ever. Magic and sorcery have a considerable influence on the social and economic structures of the peoples concerned. In some countries - such as Cameroon or Kenya - people who have been accused of witchcraft based on the expertise of witch doctors face prison terms of up to ten years. In northern Nigeria, where Sharia law was introduced, witchcraft is the death penalty.

In the last century there were repeated anti-witchcraft movements in sub-Saharan Africa (e.g. in Kenya, Zambia, Rhodesia, Malawi, Tanzania, Congo). The persecution intensified towards the end of the 20th century. Tens of thousands of people are said to have been killed in a few years due to alleged witchcraft. The attacks and murders, in which the victims were often brutally beaten, are borne and encouraged by large parts of the population. If a car tire filled with gasoline is placed around the neck of a supposed witch as a fire accelerator and set on fire, this act is considered a purification, which frees the community from evil.

Many Africans blame witches and wizards for their personal misery. The African witch hunts are related to the economic collapse and the prevailing poverty. The subcultural occultism of Africa turns out to be a phenomenon of globalization and modernization. With the dissolution of the state monopoly on the use of force, religious violence is revived. The use of occult forces represents a last, desperate rebellion for people in misery. The atrocities that soldiers and rebels perpetrated on the population in the wars before the turn of the century caused unforgettable trauma. Rwandan soldiers are said to have slit the bellies of pregnant women, hit children on the wall, raped women and ate the flesh of those killed. With the number of AIDS deaths, suspicions of witchcraft rose by leaps and bounds. Shortly before the turn of the 20th to the 21st century, hundreds of alleged witches and sorcerers are said to have been slain or burned alive in the Northern Province of South Africa alone (cf. Adam Ashforth: Witchcraft, Violence and Democracy in South Africa, Chicago 2005).

Occult aggression makes it possible to discharge social tensions. The so-called Muti murders are particularly cruel. Allegedly, their number is increasing. They are perpetrated not only in rural areas but also in cities. Often their victims are children. The hands, genitals and ears of those killed are cut off. The severed body parts are considered to contain potency, the power inherent in them can be transferred to other people. Traditional healers (sangomas) pay well to get a male head, tongue, eyes, or genitals of a victim for them. With the help of severed body parts, a healer can protect his clients from attackers, power and influence. Different effects are ascribed to the individual parts of the body. A female breast causes motherly happiness; Genitals fix potency problems; a larynx can silence a dangerous witness; Adipose tissue, urine or semen promote happiness; a tongue paves the way to a woman, and cut-out eyes allow a glimpse into the future.

Religion was and is an essential part of cultural and social life in Africa. Belief in spiritual occult forces is attracting more and more attention. Pentecostal churches, Christian salvation and free churches, charismatic revival and renewal movements, but also Islamic and Islamist faith movements are on the advance. Glossolalia, exorcisms and healing rites are practiced in the parishes of Pentecostal and charismatic origin. In the Pentecostal churches' sphere of influence, witchcraft is considered the work of the devil. The church promises victory over the world of demons and spirits. In the end, witches can also be redeemed if they show repentance. With their belief in miracles and demons, the African Pentecostal churches are certainly closer to early Christianity than modern Europeans with their rationalized worldview.

In addition to the pastors, countless healers offer help. Priests and fortune tellers are consulted when the community or an individual is threatened with harm or suffers from an illness. With the help of amulets, powders, feathers as well as incantation formulas or by carving into the body, they give their clients mystical power. This happens either directly and immediately due to the magic power of the magical act and the healer or through the involvement of God, the ancestors or helpful spirits.

Explanation patterns for belief in witches and occultism

1. Modernization shock.
The spread of the esprit sorcier (Faith in witches) in Africa is often interpreted as a reaction to the unsuccessful modernization of the continent. Pandemics such as AIDS or tuberculosis, wars, famines, economic collapses, corruption, dictatorships and bitter material poverty are justified in the fantasies of witches and ghosts and suddenly appear explainable. Why does the western world succeed in enabling people to lead a regular, prosperous life, and why not Africa? The witch is used as a scapegoat to explain the incredible economic difference with its negative consequences. In an "occult economy" (Comaroff), poverty is justified with hexes, wealth with magical measures and witchcraft, whereby even ritual murders can play a role.

2. Lack of education and information?Witchcraft and occultism are phenomena of "pre-scientific societies" (cf. DIE ZEIT, 2005). People who live in abject poverty rarely have access to education. Material need appears as "calamity", the reasons for which are rooted in personal guilt and sin, they can also be caused by devils and witches. There is a lack of education and the willingness to receive factual information. The lower the level of education, the more receptive people are to religious explanations of their personal fortunes. In Germany, this phenomenon can be seen, for example, in the growing popularity of right-wing radicalism among young people from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds. They tend to blame non-Germans or members of foreign ethnic groups for their failures. In the Congo the irrational fear of the so-called "kamoke sukali" (sugar dolls), who can turn into wild monsters devouring men, is rampant. Every girl, especially if she is pretty, can be suspected of witchcraft. A boy who lives in the Working diamond mines and bringing home more money than his father can, as he questions the authority of the head of the family and his position, be marginalized and displaced.Almost all street children in Central Africa are at risk of being accused of witchcraft.
3. Healers and medicine men - ancient traditions. The belief in a mysterious potency of healers is deeply rooted in the African worldview. Rites and customs differ greatly depending on the region. To this day, people south of the Sahara seek healers when the means and measures of Western medicine fail. Experienced and serious healers hand down an ancient natural medicine knowledge. Their medicine is also increasingly being taken seriously by Western medicine. The Christian churches are opposed to the traditional healing arts. Therefore they demonize the healers and denounce their practices as black magic. In this way they stir up the aggressive belief in witches, which has already led to mass persecution in various African regions. Healers in particular who were denounced as sorceresses fell victim to them. Similar phenomena are also known in Latin America and the Caribbean.
4. Consolation of the ancestral cult.The belief that the dead are present within the community of the living, which is widespread in Africa, is interpreted by members of the fundamentalist Christian churches as an expression of the despicable belief in witches. Indeed, it is through the proximity of the dead that Africans experience protection and direction in life.
In Africa, age and wisdom are respected and honored more than in other cultures. Life experience entitles the elderly to advise the young and thereby protect them from strokes of fate. This help extends beyond the death of the old. That is why the remembrance of the ancestors and their adoration for the survivors are of fundamental importance, especially in times of crisis. The ancestors are called upon when difficult decisions are made, and they are at your side even in the difficult hour of death. In times of hunger and drought, they give the community the confidence that they are not abandoned, but held by a strong tradition.
Communication with the ancestors takes place via healers and medicine men as media. They were instructed and initiated by the wise ancients during their lifetime. Now, as mediators, they build the bridge between this world and the realm of the dead. Life and death, reality and imagination merge. The unearthly powers and the magical potency of the healer are tools of mediation with the other world, in which the ancestors live on. The cult of ancestors conveys a positive attitude towards life and helps people in Africa to cope with and shape their lives. The line between healer and witch is thin. Only the perspective of the viewer and his assessment of the phenomenon are decisive for the distinction. Therefore, it can easily happen that healers and medicine men are suddenly accused of black magic. This happens especially when their ritual measures and blessings are unsuccessful. Then the helper against evil becomes evil personified in the twinkling of an eye.
5. Sangoma: black magic and conspiracy. Hundreds of "Sangoma" perform in South Africa today. They fuel the fear of witches in particular by describing the AIDS pandemic as the result of a conspiracy. Using their conspiracy theories, they try to retain their customers. Their messages and occult practices lead to horrific ritual fashions on thousands of innocent people, including many minors and especially street children.Although AIDS cannot be cured medically, remedial measures through magical means and by invoking otherworldly powers are promised.
6. End times mood. The deeper, more persistent and hopeless a crisis is, the faster people tend to apocalyptic ideas. The end is near, the world is about to end. Your own dreary reality of life is proof of this. In this situation, the idea that witches and wizards with their black magic measures and manipulations caused this misery creates a certain relief. The Christian faith strengthens this view of things. He takes up the African ideas of witchcraft and combines them with dualistic elements of the Christian tradition. Only the grace of God can save from the power of witches and external misery. This concept of salvation also depends on being able to name the guilty. Defenseless women and minors are particularly suited to being sacrificed as scapegoats.
From the point of view of the informers, witchcraft is the moral category of exclusion. Belief in witches is both an explanatory model and a strategy for solving problems that result from the disintegration of traditional political and social structures, orders and authorities. Magic and sorcery therefore reflect real social relationships and changes in society, and they shape them emphatically. In the African context, Christian prayers and church rituals primarily serve to protect oneself and others from demonic forces. Social conflicts can become visible, verbalized, exacerbated and carried out when members of rival groups - militias, churches and cults - accuse each other of occult violence.

The witchcraft accusations put forward are directed primarily against the powerful in their own community, against the underprivileged and against strangers outside the local area. Many politicians consult spiritual experts to secure their careers. Ministers and presidents surround each other with magicians and fortune tellers. It can be heard again and again that in ritual murders, body parts of the victims are processed into magical medicines and potency-containing medicine.

Burghart Schmidt / Rolf Schulte (eds.): Witchcraft in Modern Africa. Faith in witches in modern Africa, Hamburg 2007.
Adam Ashforth: Witchcraft, Violence and Democracy in South Africa, Chicago 2005
Bartholomäus Grill: Die Macht der Hexen, in: Die ZEIT, No. 38, from 15.09.2005
Wolfgang Bauer / Toby Binder: Verhextes Land, in: Nido 3 - 2011, p. 18ff.