Justice for ‘witch of Siya’

13 October 2020 | Crime

Swakopmund • Erwin Leuschner

In what is probably the first conviction of its kind in Namibian history, two people were sentenced under the almost 90-year-old witchcraft law after assaulting a ‘witch’ eight years ago.

“This is a big step in the education and sensitisation of dementia in Namibia,” said Berrie Holtzhausen, founder of Alzheimer Dementia Namibia (ADN).

For years, Holtzhausen has been campaigning for people who suffer from dementia and who are portrayed as witches due to this condition. This is precisely what happened to Frankhilde Haingura, who was known as the “Witch of Siya”.

Haingura lives in the village of Siya in the Kavango West region. In January 2013, she was attacked by her neighbour and daughter, who accused her of being a witch because she works hard, owns cattle and goats, has enough mahangu for her family and also ran a kuka shop.

“Jealousy is the main reason that unleashes allegations of witchcraft,” Holtzhausen said. In addition, the neighbour’s son suddenly died of a heart attack while playing soccer. This boy was a friend of Haingura’s son, Andreas.

The neighbour, Carolina Namufinda and her daughter Hermine Watema, were convinced that Haingura was a witch. Thus they attacked her, cracking her skull, and left her for dead.

“She was pregnant then too. However, she survived the attack and a little later, filed a complaint for assault,” Holtzhausen said.

However, a hearing never took place and the case was closed in December 2013.

Holtzhausen, also known as the “African witch finder”, became aware of the case per chance in April 2018 through Haingura’s son, Hamutenya. Holtzhausen went to Haingura and discovered she had a mild case of dementia.

“It is very common in Africa that people with dementia are perceived as witches or warlocks,” he said.

This is one reason why lawful proceedings have been discontinued. He wanted to refile the complaint, but the police initially laughed at him: “They told me that witches have to be sent to the extreme south, where there are no trees and they are exposed to the sun so that they can die.” Haingura had already sold all her belongings to pay three witch doctors to prove her innocence in a traditional court.

At the beginning of 2019, Holtzhausen came upon the 1933 Act to Suppress Witchcraft which is still in force. There is no known case in which a person has been convicted under this law.

Based on the act, people can be prosecuted for portraying a person as a witch and causing harm. Thus, in September 2019, the case of the “Witch of Siya” was reopened in court. In addition to bodily harm, a separate charge of violating the law to suppress witchcraft was added.

On Wednesday last week the verdict was delivered in the court at Kahenge.

Judge Barry Mufana came to the conclusion that a serious crime against Haingura had been perpetrated. The two defendants (Namufinda and her daughter Watema) were each sentenced to a fine of between N$3 000 and N$5 000.

“The application of the law will bring freedom to people with dementia and communities in which harmful practices of belief in witches are accepted as a culture,” Holtzhausen said.