Tanzania Daima published a story last week about a remarkably unpleasant event that allegedly took place in Mpanda district, in the west of Tanzania. The reaction the story has generated within Tanzania demonstrates that the events described are not a typical / common occurrence. Nevertheless, I think it illustrates some wider interesting points, so I have translated the story in full. And make a few quick points below the translated article.
The original article is legally problematic, in that it potentially prejudices a pending legal case, (as do the Police Commander’s remarks), but that’s not the point I want to make here. Nevertheless, to avoid repeating the problem, I have changed or obscured the names of key participants and other identifying details in the translation.
Healer kills his child because she had been born in breech position
Source: Tanzania Daima, 2/9/2014
A fourteen-month-old baby, Consolata George, has been killed by her father, George Lubanga “Chuiwe”, 27, apparently because she was born in the breech position.
The girl’s father, a traditional healer [mganga wa kienyeji] who lives in the village of Katuma, Mpanda District, carried out this inhuman act because, he claims, a child who is born in the breech position is a bad omen and a big curse on his work as a traditional healer.
The Katavi Regional Police Commander, Dhahiri Kidavashari, told reporters that this father carried out this act on July 20th this year, and was apprehended by the Police Force on August 26th.
It is claimed that on the day of the incident, the accused, after hanging his daughter until she was dead, he buried her secretly in the hut where he carries out his traditional healing activities.
Describing the tragedy, Commander Kidavashari claimed that baby Consolata had been unwell with an undiagnosed illness for over a month, at which point Chuiwe was compelled to treat her secretly without his wife’s knowledge, as he tricked her that the child had been taken for treatment by her grandfather in Mwanza.
It is explained that the hut where he carried out his work is a long way from his home, so it was easy to hide his child for more than a month, while treating her without his wife’s knowledge.
According to Commander Kidavashari, neighbours of the family, led by the sub-village chairman, became suspicious of the accused due to allegations that spread around the area that the child, Consolata, had been killed by her father and buried in secret.
It is claimed that these residents and the chairman arrived at the home of the accused and asked where his daughter was, at which point he reacted angrily, but when his hut was searched, they found a small, recently-dug mound of earth.
Kidavashari added that the residents decided to dig up this earth and found the baby’s head, and at that point they informed the police.
The mother of the deceased, Sara, 22, claimed that she was not involved or informed that her daughter had died.
“I knew that Consolata was with her grandfather in Mwanza for treatment,” said Sara.
Agnes, 40, a resident of Mwanza, who was being treated by the accused, claimed that she had been involved in the burial of the girl.
“Even so, I was very shocked at the act of the accused to bury his child without involving his wife. When I asked him he claimed that in their culture, the mother a child who is born in breech position should not be involved in the burial of the child,” she claimed.
According to Commander Kidavashari, four people, including the parents of the deceased, are being held by the police for questioning, and will be taken to court once initial investigations have been completed.
The others held by the police are Agnes and a neighbour of the family.
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So what are the points I want to make?
There are four:
1. The village-level dynamics of how the case was discovered are illuminating. There were suspicions, a group was formed, led by a village leader, who investigated: that sounds close to mob justice to me. The police and the reporter seem to give unquestioning support to the mob’s version of events. There’s no particular reason to doubt the truth of the allegations against “Chuiwe”, but it’s easy to see how injustice could be done in situations like this: someone unpopular could be falsely accused and quickly found guilty either by the justice system or the court of public opinion, and “held to account” either by the courts or by a violent mob.
2. The whole situation seems to have begun, at least in part, with the failure to get a proper diagnosis and treatment for the baby. It’s not clear whether the family took her to a modern health facility – either they did and the facility was unable to help or they had no faith in (or access to) such a facility in the first place. Indeed, two minutes on Google reveals that the local MP complained in parliament in 2013 about both the state of the health centre and the lack of trained medical staff in the particular village in question.
3. Putting points 1 and 2 together, this case shows tragically how failures and/or lack of faith in Tanzania’s health system and police / justice system (as well as education) contribute in a big way to two major aspects of the wider witchcraft issue in Tanzania: mob violence and witchcraft-related murders.
4. What an awful, horrible tragedy.