Halloween season means plenty of cartoonish witch displays and sexy witch costumes for parties, but the reality of what’s happening in Tanzania to women believed to be witches is truly horrifying. This week in the village of Murufiti, seven women accused of witchcraft were burned alive by a mob of villagers lead by a witch doctor.
The killings were reported in Tanzania’s Mwananchi newspaper after local police arrested 23 people, including the witch doctor, a traditional village healer, and other leaders and charged them with murder. According to the report, five of the women were over 60 and the other two over 40.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident in Tanzania. It’s estimated that 500 people accused of being witches are killed by similar mobs every year, according to The Legal and Human Rights Centre. Many of those killed are elderly women who have red eyes – a sign that a person might be a witch but more likely caused by the smoke from using dung as a fuel for cooking and heating. Also targeted are albinos whose bodies are often cut up and kept as good luck charms.
Groups like The Legal and Human Rights Centre are trying to end this horrible practice by educating the public and by putting pressure on local politicians and police to be proactive in stopping the mob leaders and witch doctors rather than just arresting the killers after the fact. A poll of 18 sub-Saharan countries found that over half of the population believe in magic – not just for healing or curses but also for help in finding jobs or spouses. Women accused of witchcraft are often blamed and punished for accidents or unexplainable events.
It’s hard to believe these practices still exist and even thrive today. Education is a powerful too in eradicating these terrible attacks on women and those who are different than us. It’s also important to remember that many of our seemingly harmless traditions are rooted in beliefs that are much more harmful.