General News Sat, 14 Apr 2001

'Witches' Continue to Suffer Persecution & Attacks

A landmark case filed by an alleged witch in Ghana has put into the limelight vicious attacks on women, especially the elderly, for supposedly practising sorcery and casting spells on victims.

The phenomenon, though not new, seems to be on the rise and there is little that state authorities have been able to do to tackle the menace.

This month, 80-year-old Janet Abra Wuo from Ghana's northeastern Volta region filed a case against her brother, the regent of her hometown, and 10 others for falsely accusing her of witchcraft and punishing her.

The regent had pronounced her guilty and forced her to "pay" her alleged victims with four bottles of gin. Wuo was also ostracised socially and currently lives the life of a recluse.

One of Wuo's alleged victims, a schoolteacher named Devine Kwami Dzah, charged that she had used sorcery to empty his bank account, render him impotent and damage his property.

Worse still is the plight of Esther Asempa, a 75-year-old, whose nephew chopped off her hands with a cutlass in January. The incident was made public only this month after one of her relatives complained to the police.

The unrepentant nephew, Kofi Kaachire, said he had been informed, "upon consultation", that the aunt was responsible for his prolonged unemployment. The nephew is yet to be prosecuted.

A senior police officer told AFP that current laws were inadequate to deal with the problem. "We have recommended the laws be strengthened and also severe punishment be given to the various herbalists and traditional priests who incite people to attack these elderly people."

He said there were on average "reports of one or two such attacks in a month. Many others go unreported because the suspects and those attacked are often close family members."

Kofi Sarpong, a 35-year-old university graduate who took to drinking and lost several jobs, was told by a traditional priest that his ageing mother and his grandmother were the cause of his woes.

Sarpong decided to change his luck. He got drunk, picked up a machete and attacked his mother and grandmother. The grandmother died but his mother survived although she suffered mutilations. He was sentenced to five years with hard labour.

In Ghana's Northern Regions, there are two "witch villages" where over 100 elderly people - mainly women who have been exiled from their homes for alleged sorcery - have taken shelter over the last 15 years.

One of Gambaga witches' camps is headed by a fetish priest who said he started it "when witches and wizards who were brought to me to be exorcised remained because their relatives refused to accept them back".

In a recent interview with the media, he said: "Many educated elite do not believe that witches and wizards exist."

Tina Yeboa, a medical officer at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra, the biggest in the country, said many "women who are barren often blamed witches in their family.

"They forget the numerous illegal abortions they had committed in their youth," she added.

Father Andrews Agyemang, a Roman Catholic priest, said "most of these traditional priests and herbalists tell the young ones what they want to hear" and thereby egg them on to attack a weak member of their family or somebody else for witchcraft.

"Instead of praying for them to have faith and be strong they rather point fingers at the elderly, resulting in these unfortunate cases," he said.

Source: Sapa-AFP