Women charged with Witchcraft in Zimbabwe
A HARARE magistrate has called in witchcraft experts after a Murehwa woman found NAKED outside her brother-in-law’s house in Highfield claimed she FLEW there in a winnowing basket with two others on a mission to kill him.
Regina Sveto, 21, was seen by passers-by outside the house wearing “red headgear” and “some black strings around the waist” just after 6AM on Sunday, the Herald newspaper reported.
Dozens of people soon gathered, some throwing stones at her until the brother-in-law she was on a mission to kill RESCUED her from the mob.
After admitting to a charge of public indecency for public nudity, prosecutors recommended that the woman be given a non-custodial sentence.
Prosecutors say the woman will now be a state witness in a future prosecution of her father-in-law Elias Zemba and aunt, Filda Zemba, whom she claims “flew her” to Harare on the mission to kill her brother-in-law.
Sveto claims the trio “took off” from a cemetery in Zihute Village under Chief Mangwende in the dead of the night, but once they got to Highfield, she balked when asked to carry out the killing. Her father-in-law and aunt then FLEW OFF, leaving her stranded at the property.
Refusing to take chances, Harare magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe said the woman should be remanded in custody just in case she “flies back to Murehwa”.
Guvamombe then told prison officers: “If she escapes, the Prison Service should explain.”
Experts from the Zimbabwe Traditional Healers Association (ZINATHA) were expected in court on Thursday to provide guidance on the bizarre case which is set to reignite a national debate on witchcraft.
Guvamombe said: "This narration is a bit of a novel situation and we need guidance from the experts to clarify certain issues. We cannot solve it on our own. She insists that she magically flew from Murehwa to Harare and if we release her on bail, she might fly back to Murehwa.”
The practice of witchcraft is illegal in Zimbabwe after witchcraft laws were changed in 2006. Under the colonial-era laws that existed before then, it was a crime to accuse anyone of practising witchcraft.
New laws say anyone accusing another individual of witchcraft must show proof of their allegations. The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act 2004 says judicial officers can rely on expert evidence “as to whether the practice that forms the subject of a charge… is a practice that is commonly associated with witchcraft.”
Prosecutor Austin Muzivi said they were determined to charge Elias Zemba and Filda Zemba with practising witchcraft in what would be a test case for the country’s witchcraft legislation.
A WOMAN who claims she flew 75 miles in a winnowing basket with two witches is probably telling the truth, a witchcraft expert told a Harare court on Thursday.
Regina Sveto, 21, “hissed like a snake” and “went into a trance” as Sekuru Nelson Jambaya, the vice president of the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association (ZINATHA) testified that witches can travel as far as South Africa during the night and “fly back as soon as their mission is accomplished”.
Court 18 at the Harare Magistrates Court was jammed to the rafters as court officials, magistrates and lawyers all raced there to watch proceedings in the rather unusual case.
Sveto has pleaded guilty to a charge of public indecency after she was found naked outside her brother-in-law’s house in Highfield suburb just after 6AM on Sunday.
She claimed she had “flown” there from Murehwa, some 120km east of Harare, with her father-in-law and an aunt. Their winnowing basket aircraft taxied off from a graveyard in Zihute Village under Chief Mangwende -- their mission to kill her brother-in-law.
Once at the house in Highfield, she claims she balked when asked to kill her brother-in-law. Her father-in-law, named in court as Elias Zemba, and the aunt, Filda Zemba, then took off and abandoned her.
Magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe has asked for expert opinion before passing sentence. After listening to Jambaya’s evidence on Thursday, Guvamombe ordered Chief Mangwende to be summoned to give his opinion on June 4.
The magistrate has also ordered that the woman be kept in custody, “just in case she flies back to Murehwa”.
Jambaya said the woman’s account confirmed what traditional healers have always believed about witches and wizards.
He told the court: "According to my knowledge, if the woman said she flew from Murehwa in a basket, then she is a witch. Witches do a lot of this and they are known to travel naked at night.
"It is also possible for witches to travel as far as South Africa during the night for the purposes of witchcraft, flying back as soon as their mission is accomplished.
"Some people use magic to protect their homes and families against witchcraft and in such cases, the witches and wizards become powerless and are subsequently exposed.”
As Jambaya testified, Sveto “hissed like a snake”, according to a report in the Herald newspaper.
At one point, she was seen to suddenly become weak, leaning heavily against a prison guard.
Then, in a sudden burst, she shouted: “You are liars! You are only senior in terms of your jobs but you are powerless against me. Why are you leaving criminals to roam free out there and harassing an innocent person like me? I have no case to answer, didn’t my medium brief you?”
“She immediately collapsed and lay prostrate on the floor for several minutes before a relative revived her by placing salt into her palms,” the Herald said.
She regained consciousness some 10 minutes later, by which time the court was overflowing with curious on-lookers.
Sekuru Jambaya advised the magistrate to impose an appropriate deterrent sentence.
The woman should be sent back to Murehwa to allow her headman to take up the matter with the chief. Relatives should also be encouraged to "join hands to cleanse her" with the help of a traditional healer, he suggested.
Prosecutors have asked the magistrate not to impose a custodial sentence on Sveto. Prosecutor Austin Muzivi said the woman was likely to be a state witness should Elias Zemba and Filda Zemba be charged with practising witchcraft, which is a crime in Zimbabwe.
A 2006 law says anyone accusing another individual of witchcraft must show proof of their allegations. The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act 2004 says court officials can rely on expert evidence “as to whether the practice that forms the subject of a charge… is a practice that is commonly associated with witchcraft.”
More information regarding Zimbabwe Witchcraft Laws