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Ritual murder and witchcraft in Southern Africa in relation to Unity Dow's "The Screaming of the Innocent"

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar) 2007 38 Seiten

Anglistik - Kultur und Landeskunde

Leseprobe

Contents

1 Introduction

2 Unity Dow
2.2 General Information
2.3 Her Profession as a Judge and Human Rights Activist
2.4 Her Profession as a Writer

3 Unity Dow’s The Screaming of the Innocent
3.1 Summary
3.2 Beliefs and Traditions – Witchdoctors
3.2.1 Chapter 9 – The Witchdoctor
3.2.2 Chapter 19 – The Witch in the Yard
3.2.3 Chapter 20 – The Healing of Ramarago
3.3 Ritual Murder
3.3.1 Chapter 1 – The Victim and the Perpetrators
3.3.2 Chapter 24 – Description of a Murder

4 South Africa – Botswana
4.1 Common Facts
4.2 Religion
4.3 Witchcraft Beliefs and Witchdoctors
4.4 Muti Murders

5 Recent Cases of Ritual Murder in South Africa

6 Comparison

7 Conclusion

8 Bibliography

Books:

Webpages:

9 Appendix
9.1 Articles from AllAfrica.com:
9.1.1 Zambia: Woman Brutally Slain in Kabompo
9.1.2 Botswana: Find Out What Killed Our Boy
9.1.3 Nigeria: Mob Sets Suspected Ritualist Ablaze
9.1.4 South Africa: Gang Held Over Serial Muti Killings
9.2 Interview with Unity Dow

1 Introduction

In 2002, Unity Dow’s book The Screaming of the Innocent was published. It deals with the topic of ritual murder in Botswana and gives detailed descriptions of the South African belief in witchcraft, traditional healing and ritual murder. Since the book is not based on a true story it is interesting to find out whether the themes Dow writes about are fictitious as well or if they can be related to Botswana’s every-day life. In an interview Unity Dow claims that ritual murder actually still happens in Southern Africa. This essay will have a closer look on some relevant passages of the book The Screaming of the Innocent and will relate them to the religion, the witchcraft belief, the belief in witchdoctors and the topic of ritual murder in Botswana. A comparison will show whether there are parallels between the fictitious story of the book and the real life in this specific area of Southern Africa.

2 Unity Dow

2.2 General Information

Unity Dow was born in 1959. She comes from a rural background with her father being a farmer and her mother not speaking any English[1]. She “studied law at the University of Botswana and Swaziland, with two years at Edinburgh University, Scotland”[2]. During that time she received the William Brennan Human Rights Award as well as the Doctor of Law’s honorary degree from Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio[3]. Today she lives in Lobatse, Botswana, together with her family[4].

2.3 Her Profession as a Judge and Human Rights Activist

Unity Dow is widely known as a lawyer and a human rights activist. In 1990 she established a centre for women[5] in her home village. This centre is called “Metlhaetsile Woemen’s Information Centre“ and Unity Dow was its director from 1994 to 1998[6]. During that time she was engaged in the promotion of the human rights of women and children[7]. The same year she co-founded the Women and Law in Southern Africa Research Project[8], a research establishment which tries to improve women’s rights[9]. Besides that, Unity Dow is a “member of International Women's Rights Watch”[10]. In January 1998 she became Botswana’s first female High Court Judge and is engaged in “human rights and women's issues”[11]. Since then she has been involved in some very important cases about women’s rights concerning citizenship (Citizenship Case)[12] and the rights of the Bushmen (Kgalagadi Court Decision)[13]. In Feburary 2004 she was elected to the International Commission of Jurists[14] and since May 2006 she has been one of the ICJ’s Executives[15].

2.4 Her Profession as a Writer

Besides being a judge and a human right’s activist, Unity Dow is a writer. So far she has written four books, namely Far and Beyond (2000), The Screaming of the Innocent (2002), Juggling Truths (2003) and The Heavens May Fall (2006). In her books she deals with human rights, gender issues, poverty, diseases and the differences between traditional and western values[16]. Her first novel, Far and Beyond, is about AIDS and poverty, whereas her second novel, The Screaming of the Innocent, is about ritual murder. The Juggling Truths is about the differences and “the juggling of truths between traditional African beliefs and Western thought”[17]. Her recent novel, The Heavens May Fall, deals with the life of a young female lawyer in Botswana.

3 Unity Dow’s The Screaming of the Innocent

3.1 Summary

Unity Dow’s The Screaming of the Innocent is about a murdered girl and a box full of evidence which disappeared and is found five years later by Amantle Bokaa who works at the Gaphala Health Clinic in a small village. The girl, Neo Kakang, became the victim of ritual murder but because of the perpetrators being powerful people the evidence gets lost and the police try to cover up the crime. They tell her family that Neo was killed by wild animals. Although none of the villagers believes this story it is Amantle who finally reopens the case and finds out what really happened five years ago.

3.2 Beliefs and Traditions – Witchdoctors

In her book The Screaming of the Innocence Unity Dow describes some scenes in which witchcraft, witchdoctors and traditional beliefs play an important role. These scenes are very significant because they give the reader an impression of how some African people deal with such topics and what they believe in.

3.2.1 Chapter 9 – The Witchdoctor

In Chapter 9, Unity Dow describes a scene in which Motlatsi, the mother of Neo, goes to a witchdoctor named Samesu because of her “female condition”[18]. Her problem is that her companion has sexual relationships towards other women and that, although he has five children with her, he does not want to marry her[19]. Samesu’s profession as a witchdoctor is described as follows:

“The man, she’d been told, specialised in female conditions. He could help a barren woman become pregnant, just as he could cure sexually transmitted diseases. He could find a husband for a woman who was seeking one, just as much as he could help a woman win a promotion at work. People had reported he was especially good at correcting conditions relating to wombs: tilted wombs; painful wombs; barren wombs; bleeding wombs; unattractive wombs – you name it: he was the expert.”[20]

It is also said that women from all over the place come to see him and ask him for advice and healing. When Motlatsi enters his hut she finds him naked and is nearly immediately asked to undress, too[21]. Because of his “soothing and kind voice”[22] and her impression that this was the common procedure she takes off her clothes and does everything he asks her to do. His explanation for being nude is that it was to “reach nature, we have to be natural: you’ll have to take off your clothes”[23]. It becomes obvious that he tries to make her feel comfortable and to give her the feeling of everything being as it should be. Even when he “had become busy preparing his instrument of divination”[24] she is not suspicious. The phrase “preparing his instrument of divination” is very ambiguous because it could either mean the creams he will use later on or it could mean that he masturbates because he will also use his genitals to heal her when they have sex later. He goes on talking to her in a “gentle, reassuring voice”[25] when he starts rubbing her body and private parts with some ointment[26]. By then, Motlatsi has the feeling that she had “no option but to comply”[27]. The reasons for that are this he tries to reassure her and that she wants the procedure to be a success. He then gives her something to drink which makes her feel “helpless but not fearful”[28] and she realizes that “something had started happening to her, and that she was losing control”[29]. After another drink Samesu begins to have sex with her, and although she does not resist and “was having the best sex she’d had in a long time”[30], she knows that he is raping her. She falls asleep while he rapes her many times and wakes up confused. The description of that time when she falls asleep and then wakes up makes obvious that Samesu has given her some kind of drug to make her amenable.

“She’d then faded into sleep. She’d been vaguely aware that Samesu was continuing with the rubbing and oiling, and many sessions of sex. She, however, had been too far away to be part of it. She’d wanted to object, but the objections had formed in her head only and gone no further. Her lips had refused to obey her, as had every other part of her body.”[31]

This description makes clear that whatever he gave her to drink influenced her in so far that she could not resist him, neither mentally nor physically. After the procedure Motlatsi feels ashamed, confused and afraid because she does not know if she might be pregnant now or infected with AIDS[32]. Nevertheless, she pays him and decides not to tell anyone about it.

It becomes obvious that the methods of Samesu are very questionable and suspect in terms of western traditions. He tries to make his patient trust him by giving her a good feeling as if everything was alright. His explanations for taking off her clothes and letting him rub her seem to be plausible to her. Then he gives her drugs to keep her from resisting and rapes her. He might know that the patient is too ashamed to tell anyone or that the patient is sure that the procedure has to be like this. Motlatsi herself says that “she hadn’t expected anyone to share this view of the sexual encounter – after all, she hadn’t resisted”[33]. In the end it can be said that the witchdoctor dominated the female patient, made her amenable and raped her and after all also gets paid for that. Because of Motlatsi not resisting and the fact that “female pilgrims would attend from afar to seek him out for his renowned expertise”[34] it becomes obvious that this is a common procedure in this area.

3.2.2 Chapter 19 – The Witch in the Yard

In Chapter 19, Amantle Bokaa is reminded of a situation in her childhood when her grandmother was accused of being a witch. She describes a situation when, as a child, she woke up in the morning hearing people scream “Witch! There’s a witch in my yard! Witch! Help! There’s a witch in my yard!”[35] Amantle gets to know that her grandmother was accused of being a witch because she stands in her neighbour’s yard early in the morning. She seems to be disoriented[36] when the villagers bring her to a special meeting place. Amantle does not really know what is happening

“How her grandmother had come to be found practising witchcraft in their neighbour’s yard early in the morning, when she usually hadn’t the energy to get up so early, was a mystery.”[37]

Amantle has no explanation for this situation. The villagers, on the other hand, have no doubts about her grandmother being a witch. They do not need any explanation. Instead of this they make her responsible for everything bad that happened to them and seems to be easiest explained by accusing her of being a witch.

“It’d seemed as if some trial were already in progress, but too many people had been speaking at the same time. ‘Last year all my chickens died, and I never thought it could be her!’ a neighbour had announced. Another neighbour had said in response, ‘Why did you talk to her? You should’ve left her there, stuck in one place for days.’ Amantle had known, without ever having seen it happen, that a witch can stand stuck in one place for days if the owners of the yard don’t talk to her or him. Another contribution had been ‘We must try her right now – right now !’ The crowd had been thickening as word was getting out that a witch had been caught. ‘What was she doing when you found her?’ ‘Where are the witchcraft tools?’ ‘She’s a witch! A witch !’”[38]

Although the woman might have never had anything to do with the chickens and although she only stood in the yard doing nothing at all, they blame her for being a witch. Even when she starts crying and urinating into her pants, when she asks for help and the chance to explain, no one listens to her[39]. Only one of the neighbours questions the accusation but instead of listening to her they blame her for being a witch, too.

“Mma-Seeletso, a woman from the neighbouring ward, had asked, ‘Is she really a witch? Perhaps the poor old woman was lost – disoriented due to her failing sight. She hasn’t been well for a while.’ ‘People whose grandmothers were witches excuse other witches,’ another neighbour had retorted.”[40]

It becomes obvious that the fear of witchcraft and the belief in it are very dominant in this society. Although there is no evidence of the woman being a witch the villagers accuse her of being one. They find threadbare explanations and blame her for things no one would reasonably relate her to. There are only a few people who question this trial. In the end, also “Amantle […] knew that charges of witchcraft weren’t always based on solid evidence”[41].

3.2.3 Chapter 20 – The Healing of Ramarago

In Chapter 20, Mma-Neo, the mother of the killed girl, remembers when Ramarago, a deaf-mute man, was to be healed from insanity. To the villagers he seems to be insane because of his behaviour.

“Ramarago was a huge, lumbering man who wore a tshega as if he were a little boy. […] Although he hadn’t been able to speak, whenever women or children went by, he’d made frightening, guttural sounds and lifted his tshega, thereby exposing himself.”[42]

Instead of understanding that Ramarago is mentally retarded, which he obviously is, they think that he is suffering from insanity which can be healed through witchcraft. His parents do not treat him as a mentally retarded person but like a wild animal since they “had kept him tied to a tree”[43]. They order a witchdoctor of whom they heard that he already “cured many similar cases”[44]. They only know him from hearsay but nevertheless confide their son to him. There are some sceptical questions like why they did not find that man before or why the procedure has to be public, but no one really questions it or tries to keep the parents from engaging the witchdoctor’s services. The procedure itself seems to be very brutal since “four men – two on each side of Ramarago – had been holding on to leather ropes looped around the patient’s chest and waist”[45]. They tie his hands, keep him from moving, lash him with a whip until he bleeds and leave him there for some days[46]. In the end he could not be healed.

It becomes obvious that many of these people strongly believe in those witchdoctors. Although their son is being tied on a tree and tortured they let it happen because they heard that the witchdoctor was successful with this procedure before. No one tries to stop the men, not even when Ramarago is screaming and bleeding. His father even helps them and although his mother is “crying pitifully”[47] it seems as if they thought it had to be done. There is no proved evidence that Ramarago would not be healed nor do they doubt that it would work. In the end, he is deaf-mute and mentally retarded like he was before.

3.3 Ritual Murder

In her book The Screaming of the Innocent Unity Dow also describes some scenes which are related to ritual murder or which explain the act of the crime. She also gives descriptions of the victim as well as of the perpetrators and with it draws a clear picture of how they are. She tries to characterize them and their surroundings and tries to give the reader some background information about how these ritual murders begin.

3.3.1 Chapter 1 – The Victim and the Perpetrators

In the beginning of The Screaming of the Innocent three perpetrators who commit a muti killing or ritual murder are described: Mr Disanka, Motlababusa Bokae and Molatedi Sebaki. Mr Disanka, on the one hand, is described as “a good man”[48]. He is married to a perfect woman[49] ; he is a good lover[50] because he makes gifts to his mistress; he is a good husband who does not “forget his responsibilities at home”[51] ; he is “a good community man”[52] who is engaged in many committees and projects; he is a good father who “loved his four children, and showed his love in many ways”[53] ; he is a businessman who is successful and who likes being successful[54]. Superficially viewed, Mr Disanka is a good man, but when one has a closer look on him the reader realizes that he is a dangerous and cruel person. He likes being successful and because he wants to remain in that position he does not shrink away from ritual murder. He is the one who looks for the victim, the “hairless lamb”, and he really seems to enjoy it.

“The good man watched – fascinated, enthralled, absorbed. As the girl skipped, her skin was caught by the wind and went up, exposing her impala legs: firm, muscular, a dark brown: the colour of a polished moselesele tree. Not a lump of fat in sight. Sleek. She grabbed her skirt and tucked the hem into the legs of her panties. […] It was a gesture through which the watching man, the good man, was provided with an uninterrupted view of the brown legs, right up her crotch, where a pink area, her undies, was visible. She was bare breasted […]. ‘God, she’s perfect,’ he whispered to himself. The body was just right. She had no bulbous protrusions yet – he could barely make out the two nodes, just ready for his purposes. And what a tight little butt she had. […] She was just right for harvesting. ‘God, she’s perfect; just right,’ the good father, husband, lover and businessman whispered under his breath.”[55]

He is not only looking for an object he and the other men need to fulfil the ritual, he is also sexually thrilled when looking at her and her childish body. He does not see the little girl who is playing with her friends, he sees a body he desires and that is ready for “harvesting”[56]. The whole situation is incomprehensible since his own little daughter is sitting next to him[57]. He does not try to hide that he observes the group of children and does not drive away when he realizes that he is sexually thrilled. Although he has his own child with him he does not realize that this little girl could be his daughter. He does not see her as a child who has a family and friends. To him she is just an object, a body he desires, that he needs and that he will use. It is also said that it is not the first time he is looking for a body for a muti killing. “It had been two years since the previous one, and he was more than ready for the next experience”[58]. This implies that he has no bad conscience because he does not regret that he killed a girl before. He is rather looking forward to the next ritual murder and he wants it to be perfect. If he had a bad conscience, he would not, on the one hand, bring his daughter with him and, on the other hand, look forward to “harvesting” another innocent child. It becomes obvious that he is a cruel and unscrupulous man who is everything but “a good man”. Then there is, on the other hand, Head Man Motlababusa Bokae. He is not described as positive as Mr Disanka is on the first sight. Mr Bokae is rather described as “a man whose arrogance was evident in the way he walked, talked and bore himself”[59] ; he is known for his “swaggering walk, bullish voice, and near- and actual rapes of young girls”[60] ; he is a bitter man[61] because he is only Head Man which means that he earns less money and has less power than the Chief; he is also called ‘Little Chief’, ‘Sub-chief, ‘Not Quite Chief’[62] which makes him very angry. In his opinion he is the rightful chief and therefore he hates everyone who has more power than he or who gets a higher salary; he also hates “women, chiefs, lawyers and parliamentarians”[63] for many reasons. It is said that

[...]


[1] http://oraclesyndicate.twoday.net/stories/3259502/ (March 2007)

[2] http://www.icj.org/article.php3?id_article=3270&id_rubrique=13 (March 2007)

[3] ibid

[4] http://www.afrikaroman.de/autoren/autor.a_z/autor_dow.php (March 2007)

[5] http://www.cca.ukzn.ac.za/images/tow/TOW2004/dow.htm (March 2007)

[6] http://oraclesyndicate.twoday.net/stories/3259502/ (March 2007)

[7] http://www.icj.org/article.php3?id_article=3270&id_rubrique=13 (March 2007)

[8] http://www.cca.ukzn.ac.za/images/tow/TOW2004/dow.htm (March 2007)

[9] http://oraclesyndicate.twoday.net/stories/3259502/ (March 2007)

[10] http://www.law.uc.edu/morgan/newsdir/dow020515/ (March 2007)

[11] http://www.cca.ukzn.ac.za/images/tow/TOW2004/dow.htm (March 2007)

[12] ibid

[13] http://oraclesyndicate.twoday.net/stories/3259502/ (March 2007)

[14] ibid

[15] http://www.icj.org/article.php3?id_article=3270&id_rubrique=13 (March 2007)

[16] http://www.cca.ukzn.ac.za/images/tow/TOW2004/dow.htm (March 2007)

[17] http://www.cca.ukzn.ac.za/images/tow/TOW2004/dow.htm (March 2007)

[18] Unity Dow (2002), The Screaming of the Innocent, p. 80

[19] ibid

[20] Unity Dow (2002), The Screaming of the Innocent, p. 80

[21] Unity Dow (2002), The Screaming of the Innocent, p. 81

[22] Unity Dow (2002), The Screaming of the Innocent, p. 81

[23] ibid

[24] ibid

[25] Unity Dow (2002), The Screaming of the Innocent, p. 82

[26] ibid

[27] ibid

[28] ibid

[29] Unity Dow (2002), The Screaming of the Innocent, p. 82

[30] Unity Dow (2002), The Screaming of the Innocent, p. 83

[31] Unity Dow (2002), The Screaming of the Innocent, p. 83

[32] Unity Dow (2002), The Screaming of the Innocent, p. 84

[33] ibid

[34] Unity Dow (2002), The Screaming of the Innocent, p. 80

[35] Unity Dow (2002), The Screaming of the Innocent, p. 171 f

[36] Unity Dow (2002), The Screaming of the Innocent, p. 172

[37] ibid

[38] Unity Dow (2002), The Screaming of the Innocent, p. 173

[39] Unity Dow (2002), The Screaming of the Innocent, p. 173

[40] ibid

[41] Unity Dow (2002), The Screaming of the Innocent, p. 174

[42] Unity Dow (2002), The Screaming of the Innocent, p. 177 f

[43] Unity Dow (2002), The Screaming of the Innocent, p. 178

[44] ibid

[45] Unity Dow (2002), The Screaming of the Innocent, p. 178

[46] Unity Dow (2002), The Screaming of the Innocent, p. 178 f

[47] Unity Dow (2002), The Screaming of the Innocent, p. 178

[48] Unity Dow (2002), The Screaming of the Innocent, p. 1

[49] ibid

[50] Unity Dow (2002), The Screaming of the Innocent, p. 2

[51] Unity Dow (2002), The Screaming of the Innocent, p. 3

[52] ibid

[53] ibid

[54] Unity Dow (2002), The Screaming of the Innocent, p. 4

[55] Unity Dow (2002), The Screaming of the Innocent, p. 5

[56] ibid

[57] Unity Dow (2002), The Screaming of the Innocent, p. 6

[58] Unity Dow (2002), The Screaming of the Innocent, p. 6

[59] Unity Dow (2002), The Screaming of the Innocent, p. 9

[60] ibid

[61] Unity Dow (2002), The Screaming of the Innocent, p. 7

[62] Unity Dow (2002), The Screaming of the Innocent, p. 11

[63] ibid

Details

Seiten
38
Jahr
2007
ISBN (eBook)
9783638850025
ISBN (Buch)
9783638849340
Dateigröße
575 KB
Sprache
Englisch
Katalognummer
v78679
Institution / Hochschule
Universität Duisburg-Essen
Note
1,7
Schlagworte
Ritual Southern Africa Unity Screaming Innocent South African Women Writers

Autor

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Titel: Ritual murder and witchcraft in Southern Africa in relation to Unity Dow's "The Screaming of the Innocent"