The Zambian capital, Lusaka, has been engulfed by crisis. Cases of ritual murders have been reported in the past months and locals have accused foreign nationals of being behind these savage killings. Angry mobs have gone on rampage burning houses and looting the shops of foreigners. Soldiers have been sent to the streets to restore calm and order. President Lungu has condemned the attacks and has pledged to bring those behind the violence to justice. One reporter has attributed the attacks to scapegoating. She suggested that the violence was rooted in the high level of poverty and unemployment in Zambia. For her, the locals were just putting the blame for their national problems and challenges on foreign nationals. That sounds reasonable. Isn’t it? Of course it does.
It makes sense to say that that Zambians might have exhausted the local blame capital and are now looking for ‘outsiders’ to blame. Some might say that Zambians were merely venting their anger and frustration over the poverty and misery in their land on foreigners. It seems obvious that the economic crisis is deepening and biting hard. Thus these attacks could be construed as signs of despair and hopelessness in Zambia. After all, President Lungu and his government have been busy praying to God to save the Kwacha, to stop road accidents and to fix the problems that plague the nation.
However, the xenophobic attacks in Zambia are beyond scapegoating. They reveal a more fundamental anomaly, a festering sore which we have refused to acknowledge and address – the terror of ritualistic nonsense, the discontents of magical mentality. Let us attempt to highlight the vicious underbelly of recent attacks and crisis in Zambia. Let us take a critical look on the recent cases of murder in some parts of the country. These murder cases were not made up or fabricated but actually happened. Photos of some victims have been posted online and families of victims have been waiting for answers and explanations. Locals thought that these were not just ordinary instances of murder. They were not cases of people who were killed in the course of a quarrel or dispute.
Zambians thought that they were cases of ritual murder because the body parts of the victims had been removed. These unresolved cases of ritual murder have led to feelings of fear and anger. What we had just witnessed in Zambia was that people decided to take laws into their hands. They decided to tackle suspected ritualists themslves and stop the senseless killings, since the government had failed to address the problem. We have witnessed similar mob actions and reactions to ritual killings in many parts of Africa, for example in Nigeria. There have been protests against the killing of people living with albinism in East Africa. But the important questions are: Why do Zambians indulge in ritual killing and sacrifice? What can we do to stop these senseless murders?
First of all people in Zambia and in other parts of Africa believe that human body parts have magical potency. They think that human eyes, hearts, sexual organs can be used to produce potent charm which can make people succeed in business or politics. It is not clear when Africans started entertaining this belief but this notion is as old as the religious belief and practice of human sacrifice. The practice is embedded in traditional religion, and is reinforced by the teachings of christianity and Islam.
Due to this belief, people who are encountering problems in their business or politics go to local ‘medicine’ practitioners who may ask them to bring body parts for the preparation of very powerful charms. Those who cannot harvest the body parts commission others to do it at a fee. Some persons can also get the body parts and sell them to these ‘medicine’ men and earn extra income. There is a ‘ritual market’ and syndicate in Zambia. And this ritual market must be exposed and the ritual syndicate smashed. We need to make ritual murders history in Zambia and throughout Africa.
To achieve this, Zambians, nay Africans, need to abandon the superstitious belief that one can enhance one’s success through some magical practice or ritual sacrifice of animals or humans. We need to free our minds of these misconceptions that cause people to commit atrocities. In schools, colleges and universities Zambians should be told that charms are useless. That the assumed efficacy of ritual sacrifice of humans or animals has no basis in reason, science or in reality.
The idea of presenting and promoting ritual magic as a form of ‘African medicine’, should be discouraged. Religious or academic experts who peddle such mistaken and misconstrued notions should be challenged and their claims critically evaluated. The charlatans who ask people to get human body parts for the preparation of charms should be arrested, exposed and sanctioned. Critical thinking Africans should become proactive in campaigning against irrational beliefs. Skeptics in Africa should not stand by and think that dangerous superstitions such as the belief in the potency of charms and ritual sacrifice of humans would simply disappear on their own. They will not. The process of public education and enlightenment should begin right away online and offline, in the markets and in all public squares, in the slum communities, in urban and rural centers. Let us urge all Zambians to abandon superstition and embrace science, reason and commonsensical ways of enhancing their business and political fortunes. We should not wait for another wave of killings by ritualists or another mob attack before we get to work.
The xenophobic attacks in Zambia are more than a scapegoating device. They reveal the dark and destructive mindset that is pervasive in the region. Those attacks constitute a collective indictment on our reason and conscience. They shame use all. Yes the xenophobic attacks expose the terror of ritualistic nonsense in our society.
I therefore ask you to join me in exposing the various absurd, irrational and nonsensical beliefs that are used to commit atrocities in the region. Would you join me in working and campaigning against superstition based human rights abuses and in striving to achieve a more skeptical and rational Africa?