“Witch!” the man yelled before pelting stones at my 60 year-old grandmother. The stones hit her on the forehead, and she stumbled before falling to the ground.
“Hajia!” “Hajia” I could hear people call. I stood in my school uniform, stunned and shocked by what I had just witnessed, watching as my older cousins, aunts and neighbors rushed to her aid.
Nearly a decade ago, my grandma was accused of possessing black magic by someone she considered family. The accusation, later proven untrue, gained traction in the neighborhood, and that gave the young folk the gut to assault her.
Luckily for Hajia, she wasn’t lynched because her strong family came to her defense and fought till her innocence was proven. But even before that, she along with others sustained injuries from the series of clash between the two sides.
Hajia’s ordeal is one from the many instances where older women (especially the poor) not just in Ghana but in sub-Saharan Africa are accused of practicing witchcraft, deserted or worse, tortured and beaten to death.
Just when I thought such barbaric acts related to superstition have died out in Ghana, 90-year-old Akua Denteh was dragged and publicly lynched after a soothsayer accused her of practicing witchcraft. She died of her injuries a few hours later.
Belief in witchcraft remains widespread in Ghana, especially in regions of the north, where modern-day witch hunts are prevalent. The evidence of these witch hunts are the six witch camps that exist and still are operating.
Over the past centuries, many have been accused and convicted of witchcraft. It did not matter what their background was. Young, old, rich, poor, married or unmarried, these people had one thing in common. They were women, without male authority figures to protect them, making it is easy for their communities to cast them out.
The historically patriarchal nature of the Ghanaian society has made it ripe for women to be often accused and convicted of practicing witchcraft. Thus, it is not surprising that accusations are leveled against the vulnerable such as older women, unmarried, single mothers, those with ‘too many’ children or considered ‘peculiar’ by their neighbors.
During the Salem Witch Trials of 1692-1693, all it took was an accusation for the life of an individual to be forfeited. Today, in cases where the victims’ lives were spared, they were cast out along with their children (if they had any) and forced to live as outsiders in ‘witch camps’ on pain of harm or death should they leave.
Historically, witch hunts did not target the influential in a patriarchal society despite the fact witches were considered to be powerful. If it had, there would have been more accused wizards than witches. Instead, it targeted the most vulnerable.
What isn’t surprising is that the witch hunters were mostly people in powerful positions such as heads of religious institutions, soothsayers, oracles. Specifically, men. The witch hunt has a lot to do with sexism and misogyny.
As it has always been said with regard to all matters of importance this past decade, “expressing shock” is no longer enough. Condemning actions is no longer enough. Releasing statements is no longer enough. In fact, it has never been enough.
If we have learnt anything from history, those accusations leveled were not merely baseless accusations. It was an excuse to invalidate and subject a minority to dehumanizing treatment and what happened to Akua Denteh was no different compared to the Salem Witch Trials. It was a modern-day baseless witch hunt that ended in the demise of an innocent person.
It is sad, disheartening and shameful that such events are to this day and age prevalent in Ghana, a country perceived to be the beacon of democracy and a promoter of human rights in Africa.