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Bloody witch hunts spark fear in Kisii

NYANZA
By Erick Abuga | January 18th 2017
Eight houses belonging to suspected witches were burnt down. (Photos Sammy Omingo/Standard)

A fresh wave of fatal attacks on suspected witches in the county has stirred concern in the larger Gusii region.

More than 10 people have been killed on suspicion of being witches in the recent past, with their houses and property reduced to ashes.

But national government officials are blaming the continued attacks on locals who do not want to testify in court for fear of revenge.

Six years ago, a video clip appeared on the internet showing five people being burnt in the village of Nyamataro. The killers alleged the five practised witchcraft.

Since then, police have struggled to arrest the suspects and bring the case to court because they cannot find anybody willing to give evidence.

Police say it is rare for people in the community to testify against one another for fear of revenge attacks.

‘Witch burning’ in the Gusii community has become rampant but it is not evident that the killers acatually believe their victims are witches.

Retaliation against elderly women is growing more violent as authorities remain silent.

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On January 14, two elderly women were burnt beyond recognition in Omokonge village, Nyamira County, on suspicion of practising witchcraft.

Pauline Mogambi, 95, and her daughter Rose Mogambi, 53, were lynched by angry villagers. Eight homes of alleged witches were also set ablaze.

The frightened grandmother was allegedly dragged from her home by the youths who had turned up without notice and immediately set on fire without any questioning.

They set her ablaze using petrol before moving to other homes where they caused mass destruction by burning the mud-and-grass thatch houses.

Nyamira South OCPD Rico Ngare, who led police officers to the scene, warned residents not to take the law into their own hands.

“Some of the people killed might even be innocent. This kind of mob justice is primitive and illegal. We will do everything possible to arrest the suspects who were involved in the killings. We will not bend the law,” said Mr Ngare.

In March 2009, five elderly people accused of witchcraft were burnt to death in Bomatara Village, Kitutu Chache constituency, on accusations of abducting a child and making him dumb through black magic.

The child, who had been abandoned by the roadside, pointed out those who abducted him. They allegedly owned up before being set ablaze.

According to police records, the five - four women and one man - were all aged over 80.

In the villages of Nyang’iti, Ritembu, Itibo and Mogenda, less than two kilometres apart, lie five graves in different homesteads.

Deserted homes and the ruins of torched houses are what remain following the lynching of suspected witches in April 2014.

UGLY ATTACK

In Nyang’iti village, Meshack Mokua, 24, lost his mother, Alice Moraa, in the ugly attack. His mother’s killers were apparently recorded on video as they burnt her to death.

“I have watched the video of my mother being burnt and I pray that God forgives those who were involved. I remain optimistic that one day, the authorities will arrest and prosecute the suspects,” said Mr Mokua.

In the same village, John Makori was butchered in January 2014 allegedly by his brother on allegations that he (Makori) had bewitched his mentally ill son.

The deceased’s wife, Ann Nyamoita, said she doesn’t believe her husband was a witch.

“He was killed because of land issues within the family,” she said.

Gusii Council of Elders chairman Araka Matundura holds a similar view.

“We have so many family issues in our community, including land conflicts that could arise from polygamous marriages,” he said.

Chapter 67 (Article 6) of the Witchcraft Act says: “Any person who accuses or threatens to accuse any person of being a witch or of practising witchcraft shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding Sh500,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.”

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