Some societies in most Africa regard a witch as a person with inherent supernatural powers, but in the West witchcraft has been more commonly believed to be an ordinary person’s free choice to learn and practice magic with the help of the supernatural.
We have however had numerous debates on the issue of witch craft raising questions like this; do we have anything like witch craft anyway? The answer to such a question would depend on an individual’s belief as there is no universal acceptance on the concept.
Witches or sorcerers were usually feared as well as respected (as it is today anyway), and they used a variety of means to attempt to achieve their goals, including incantations, divination and oracles, amulets and charms, potions or salves, and dolls or other figures (to represent their enemies).
Witches could help to gain or preserve health, to acquire or retain property, to protect against natural disasters or evil spirits, to help friends, and to seek revenge.
In some cases the magic was believed to have worked in a more scientific way. For example, fertility could be regained by a mere ritual slaughter of an animal.
Witch craft was accompanied by strong beliefs and humanity’s frustration about the order of nature contributed a lot to this belief.
We live in a bewildering world where we don’t have a lot of control. And we can imagine doing things through magic that we can’t do as ordinary human beings. People believe in magic for all sorts of reasons, including the desire to accrue wealth or advance in life. Many people thus resort to witches and magic in desperate situations.
In addition to that, people need to strike a balance in a world in which they do not get access to wealth and happiness. They are guided by the very belief. One Rwandan middle aged man had this to say, when asked if he believed in witch craft;
"Whether I believe in it or not is inconsequential; it affects all our lives in one way or another. Unfortunately, witchcraft in Rwanda like in other African countries is mostly associated with destructive events. It is no secret that witchcraft is intricately linked to Satanism and mysticism," Mousonera Jean laments.
The old people especially, still strongly believe in witch craft and it is deeply ingrained in their minds that they cannot easily change.
Their beliefs were thus transferred to their children and the cycle is completely unbreakable. That is why we see young people involved in witch craft activities, especially as customers.
It is not surprising therefore, to find an educated lady going to a gypsy witch to regain the love of her boyfriend or husband who cheated on her.
It should not surprise you again when you see businessmen go for witch doctors to seek more fortune in their business.
There have been different signs showing how Africans still believe in witches both at the individual and at the community levels.
There are common evidences of this belief for example, in the east African soccer. At least every football team has a witch doctor that is strongly praised or blamed for the success or failure of the team.
There have been a number of cases at the continental level where the same beliefs took a bigger hand. All this is not an accident but a reality embedded in the African reality.
Nonetheless, today some people might view witchcraft as mere superstition and go against it; "a witch is simply an evil person aiming to destroy other people’s lives spiritually. Witchcraft should not be recognised in any form as it is not good within the society", Noel Sichivula a Zambian social worker.
But for most African people, the practice has served a basic human need and what is important to note is that, witch craft exists and still has strong roots in Africa.
Countries like Zimbabwe lifted the ban on the practice of witchcraft, repealing colonial-era legislation that made it a crime to accuse someone of being a witch or wizard. Even though many countries have not had strong talk about witch craft, there are a significant number of people involved in it.
Our questions thus remain; why do we believe in it? Is there any thing good in it and if it is not there, then, why should people stick to it?
Who are the witches or witch doctors?
From nowhere, people have branded witches as evil and wizards in a typical western context (people who intend to harm others) and thousands of them have run out of their homes, and have lost their property after being called witches.
For many years, such victims have been killed by vigilante mobs. The victims have been accused of shape-shifting themselves from human form into cats and birds and hence responsible for lack of rain and other misfortunes.
Unfortunately, most of the victims are individuals who are living a deprived life and therefore have nothing to do with the rain.
"Old women and men, who live alone, form the highest number of the victims. When you are old and deprived, you look ugly, dirty and live in a poor house, then be certain that at some point you may be a victim", remarked one Mukamusoni Petronia.
When an old woman or man is left alone in a home without kids and poor, people call her/him a witch and therefore an outcast. This exists and there is no debate about it and some women activists have argued against it at several occasions.
The possible source of this unfortunate confusion in the region (Africa) is the Suppression of Witchcraft which does not differentiate between most forms of traditional African healing and evil sorcery. There is healing witch craft and evil witch craft. People have failed to draw the dichotomy properly.
From the above context therefore, we deduce that people believe in witch craft and that is why we have victims of the kind in our society.
Why do we then believe in witchcraft?
"Beliefs and practices associated with witchcraft have had a significant impact on African history and continue to play a role in shaping the continent’s political and economic development", says Professor Kalala Ngalamulume.
Witch craft must have had successes and people must have benefited from it, which is why it does not die down.
But some people, who have arguments against it, call it a form of Satanism. This is wrong because it cannot be Satanism when Satanism is Christian. These are two different beliefs with common characteristics.
Witch craft is thus a belief like any other that we do not need to worry about as we cannot change anything about it.
Beliefs are naturally so strongly rooted in the people’s mind that fighting them, only calls for madness. Borrowing the words Karl Marx used when defining religion, a belief in witchcraft is the people’s opium and cannot therefore be reversed. It would be very futile to try and find out why people believe in witch craft. They simply believe in it and that is all. It is part of their lives.