Superstition and murder. Africa strikes again.

In my Foreword to Lawdog‘s latest book, ‘The Lawdog Files:  African Adventures‘, I noted:

The thing most Westerners fail to realize is that Africa – the real, deep, dark, “bush” Africa, not the faux-touristy Africa so often portrayed in movies or on TV – is… different. It’s so different, it’s almost impossible for one not raised there to comprehend it. Even urbanized, allegedly “modern” Africa is different. To illustrate: until recently, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange was situated on Diagonal Street in that South African city. Every morning, one could watch black stockbrokers on their way to work. Almost all had Bachelors degrees, and many had post-graduate qualifications. They’d stop at the stalls of street sangomas (shamans, witch-doctors) and solemnly buy a little packet of dried herbs and parts of animals’ bodies, called muti (“medicine”), to bring them luck for the day. Sometimes they’d pay a little more for some extra-strong muti, guaranteed to bring bad luck to their rivals. No matter how educated and worldly-wise they had become, the hold exercised over their minds by animist beliefs and tribal culture could not be gainsaid.

I once sat out a severe thunderstorm on the porch of a farmhouse in the Northern Transvaal. With me was a school-teacher from the local town, a man with a Bachelors degree and a post-graduate Diploma in Education. He solemnly informed me that the animist spirits of the trees were at war, and the spirit of that tree – the one that had just been struck by lighting – had lost his battle. He was an educated man, who knew all about, and daily taught, physics and chemistry to school pupils… but he was also a product of his tribe and his culture. He really believed what he’d just said. He absolutely was not joking. When I tried to argue, he told me openly that he pitied me, because I was so blind to the spiritual reality that could be seen, plain as a pikestaff, right in front of my eyes.

I could go on, but you get the idea.  Africa is different. Most of her people are different. They think, behave, and react differently. That’s not a racist statement; it’s just the way it is.

That difference has just been demonstrated yet again in the sleepy South African farming town of Estcourt (or, at least, when I knew it in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, it was still a sleepy farming town – things may have changed since then).

A rural village in Escourt‚ KwaZulu-Natal‚ is abuzz with allegations of black magic‚ muti and cannibalism after four men‚ one of whom is a traditional healer‚ stand accused of murdering a woman and eating parts of her body.

The group made a brief appearance in the Estcourt Magistrate’s Court on Monday facing charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

Their arrests followed the confession of a man who walked into the Estcourt police station at the weekend‚ declaring to officers that he was tired of eating human flesh.

When officers questioned his outlandish statement‚ the man produced part of a human leg and a human hand.

. . .

Ward councillor Mthembeni Majola said that the community had been shaken after hearing about the macabre discovery by police and held a meeting on Monday morning.

“There was a community meeting because I wanted to find out their position on this and the extent of the involvement of the accused. They came from our ranks. Their families confessed that they knew about the killings … It cannot only be one body. When the police were following this matter they discovered eight ears in a pot where one man was staying. That means there is much more to this‚” Majola said.

There’s more at the link.  Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

If the report alone doesn’t boggle your mind, consider that the families of those committing the murders knew what they were doing, but did nothing to stop them.  That demonstrates the power sangomas, or traditional healers, have over the credulous tribespeople who ‘believe’ in them.  Furthermore, there must be families in the region who have lost loved ones to these criminals . . . but they did not report their missing loved ones to the police.  Again, they would have been prevented from doing so by the fear that the sangoma(s) in question would have used their spiritual ‘powers’ to retaliate against them – perhaps even putting them on the menu, so to speak.

I’m sure this mess will turn out to be much worse than it appears from the initial report above.  I have little doubt that the death toll will increase as more evidence is uncovered.  This sort of thing is not new in Africa.  There are many who still believe that muti containing human body parts is particularly powerful and effective.  Some of them can afford to (and do) pay large sums for it.  Where there’s a market, someone will satisfy the demand.  That’s as good as a law of nature, in economic terms.

Some human bodies, particularly those affected by albinism (and, among them, children in particular, because of their perceived ‘innocence’) are considered particularly efficacious for muti – so much so that in Tanzania, where that belief is rampant, many albinos have to live in separate villages or ‘safe houses’ (that aren’t always safe enough), guarded for their protection against gangs of criminals seeking to kidnap them for sale to local witch-doctors.

And so the sleepy farming community of Estcourt, that I remember well, has been thrust into the glare of the national and international spotlight, all because of rampant superstition.  I’m sure many of the locals are cursing those responsible . . . but it’ll likely happen again.  Tribal culture and animist beliefs are too deeply rooted to be suppressed for more than a short time.  They’ll be back.


May the souls of the victims, through the mercy of God, rest in peace;  and may those they leave behind receive what comfort they may.



  1. The third world is alive with superstition, tribalism, and historic prejudices, regardless of what people want to believe… sigh…

  2. i read about a man in the sciences who reported that a colleague, an intelligent competent scientist who had been raised in a primitive religion, actually believed what he had been taught.
    he saw no dichotomy between his mythology and his science.
    the human mind is certainly a maze.

  3. Hey Peter;

    Like Old NFO Said "The 3rd world is alive with superstition", I spent some time in North Africa which is different than Saharan Africa and South Africa where you are from. I also read from many sources that AIDS is rampant over there and the cure is to have intercourse with a virgin to cure you." well it doesn't work and spreads the disease. No matter what they are told, they will still act under their belief system.

  4. The first 2 thoughts that came to mind are:

    1. What could possibly be a common thread among all these people?
    2. What is the true value of a college degree from these institutions?

  5. And you have now described some of what is wrong with inner cities, amongst certain populations.

    And there are 'smart' people in these United States that want to import more Africans into this country.

    Madness. Total madness.

  6. Just a thought, exactly how many God fearing people of America belief a bloke built a massive boat and saved the world. Or when walking up Wall St pray to a mythical man in the Sky with a big grey beard dressed in a bed sheet and Sandler for good luck ?
    Just saying differant people differant beliefs in mythical or is that Faith in people things that don't exist possibly ?

  7. From Ladysmith:
    More information has sprung to light as literally hundreds of people in the Amangwe area have confessed to eating human remains.

    32-year-old Nino Mbatha, one of four people arrested, was formally an nyanga (traditional healer) practicing in Ladysmith and allegedly fled to Estcourt for unknown reasons.

    At a community meeting held yesterday in the Amangwe area near Estcourt, over 700 people gathered. When questioned by a local councillor, 300 of them admitted visiting Mbatha and knowing he was giving them human flesh to eat as muti (traditional medicine).



  8. Anonymous of August 22, 2017 at 2:05 PM

    Worst kind of whataboutism there.

    When was the last time a Christian denomination recommended eating fellow human beings?

  9. JL, Nobody is arguing that cannibalism is bad. But allowing your belief system to overpower rational thought is never okay. There's solid, repeated evidence that dinosaurs roamed the earth hundreds of millions of years ago, and the Earth was formed out of ball of gas some 4.5 billion years ago. This alarms a group of Christians so much that they've created "museums" that "prove" the Earth was created by God less than 6000 years ago (5777, to be exact), and that dinosaur fossils were planted by Satan to trick the unfaithful. Furthermore, they work tirelessly to rewrite school textbooks, seeking to remove our best working theories of how humans evolved from the earliest life forms, because Man emerged fully formed from the Garden of Eden.

    In the immediate, that is certainly less harmful than cannibalism. In the long term, these "alternative facts" are hurting our entire nation. Faith tells us what is in our hearts and souls; science tells us how things work, and provide a method for figuring that out. Get those backwards and we are doomed.

  10. The group of Christians I belong have no problem whatsoever with a planet Earth that is 4,500 million years old.

    Moreover, Georges Lemaître, the father of the Big Bang Theory also belongs to that same group of Christians, same as Nicolaus Copernicus, and Louis Pasteur, to name a few.

    Furthermore, Saint Thomas Aquinas proved that there is no contradiction between faith and reason, as both are valid means to discover Truth.

  11. This is certainly something I should comment on, but my horoscope for today says to avoid making delicate decisions.

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