‘Witchcraft’ is no excuse, says judge

2013-10-18 00:00

BELIEF in witchcraft has no place in modern society, a Pietermaritzburg high court judge said yesterday in jailing three men for 20 years each for bludgeoning two women to death over “rumours” that they practised witchcraft.

“A clear message must be sent to communities that this type of behaviour won’t be tolerated. People who continue to believe in superstition and witchcraft run the risk of going to jail for a very long time,” Judge Rishi Seegobin said in sentencing brothers Thulani (25) and Bongani Xulu (28), and a friend, Zakhele Nkosi (26), for the “cruel” murders of mother and daughter Alice Dlamini and Nkosikhona Xulu.

The murders took place near Vryheid on August 15 this year.

The women were attacked with a hammer, a stick with a bolt attached, and a spear by the three, who said in statements they had been afraid they were going to die within three days due to something allegedly said by the victims, as well as rumours the women were practising witchcraft.

Seegobin said while this may have been their subjective belief, there was no tangible evidence that the women were in fact practising witchcraft. He said in his view the belief was often advanced as an excuse to justify a killing, and has no place in modern society.

The judge said courts had been dealing with cases involving witchcraft for more than 100 years, and in many cases the belief was regarded as being strong mitigation for offences.

“These are cases where the accused have come from a primitive society steeped in superstition,” he said.

The judge said this degree of mitigation did not exist in the present case. The three men could not claim to be uneducated or to live in a society cut off from civilisation.

“Nor can they claim that they, or their family, were already affected by some act or danger directly attributable to the deceased,” he said.

Nevertheless, he found justification to impose sentences lower than the prescribed minimum of life imprisonment in the case.

Seegobin sentenced each man to 20 years’ imprisonment for each of the two murders, but ordered the sentences to run concurrently.

Afterwards, Ayanda Xulu (26) — the son and brother of the murdered women — said the killers should have got two life terms each.

Xulu broke down in tears while testifying in the trial about the devastating effect the murders had on his family. He and his siblings had to leave their family home, and are now dependent on support from their uncles.

He said his sister left behind a two-year-old child.

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