Friday, 8 February 2013

Malawian Secular Humanist Gets Norwegian Aid to Stop Witch Hunts

George Thindwa with freed accused-witches in 2011.
I hadn't really heard of George Thindwa until last night when I came across this fascinating article in the Nyasa Times, Malawi humanist Thindwa gets Norway aid, defiant: ‘Witches do not exist’.

What?  You don't read the Nyasa Times?  Where have you been?

This story is about witches, the existence of which Thindwa, executive director of the Malawi Association of Secular Humanism,  defiantly denies.  And, to me, the mere existence of that little word defiant in itself paints a rather disconcerting picture of modern-day Malawi.  Why is this conversation ongoing in this 21st century?
George Thindwa has called for an end to violence against suspected witches, maintaining his stand that witchcraft is a belief and that witches do not exist.
Mr Thindwa is a rather extraordinary man; a kind of Malawian James Randi.
Thindwa said, if witchcraft really existed, he would have been bewitched by now following his K200,000 offer to anyone who would bewitch him through magic.
He goes on in the article to say that the existence of witches is an unproven assertion, much like there is no proof for God.

Well, fast-forward to now. The Norwegian embassy has pledged K206,980,200 ($576,000 CAN) to the Malawian Association of Secular Humanism for a three-year long program to eradicate witchcraft based violence towards women and children across the country.  If only the Canadian "Harper" Government would follow suit and stop pushing their fundamentalist Christianity across the globe.  You know, fund something secular and fact-based.

Anyway, Thindwa said his organization is going to implement a three year project on the eradication of witchcraft based violence against children, women and the elderly, who are the most vulnerable of society.  It will be conducted in eleven districts across the country.
”Many people especially women and the elderly have lost life and property on suspicions that they are practicing witchcraft. And in most cases there were no evidence to prove that they were really practicing witchcraft,” said Thindwa.
One of the primary approaches of the program is to educate people that witches do not exist as per the 1911 Witchcraft Act inherited from the British which makes it illegal to accuse anyone of being a witch.

It looks like he has his work cut out for him.
Believing in witchcraft in Malawi forms part of tradition. In a study by the National Statistical Office (NSO) in 2008, 76 percent of sampled Malawian households said they know of witches in their community and 62 percent said they know someone accused of witchcraft.
But there is encouraging news.  Only last week, the two remaining accused witches were released from jail, after three years of imprisonment based on supernatural charges, bringing the current total prisoner count down to zero for the first time ever since the 1911 Act.

From: Malawi frees all witches from jail
Key in the release of the two women is the Association for Secular Humanists (ASH) with its executive director George Thindwa. ASH is at war with witchcraft and is currently running adverts on local radios to sensitise people against witchcraft-related violence.
In the lead-up to the release of the two women, it bombarded the State with petitions to free all witchcraft convicts from the country’s prisons. 
So far, the organisation has bailed the women out by giving them two bags of maize each, medicine and assorted groceries. 
It's a wonderful thing to see Humanism as a force for such enlightenment in Africa!  This alongside Humanist schools, like the Kasese Humanist Primary School, doing good work in Uganda.  Perhaps the seeds we see today shall someday grow into a broad-based enlightenment across the entire continent!  A kind of African awakening.

Some further reading on George Thindwa.

You can find an account of when George Thindwa was detained in June 2011 and fined by authorities for trying to break up a witch hunt on the New Humanist blog, Humanist George Thindwa briefly detained and fined as he attempts to stop a witch-hunt in Malawi.

If you would like to see how Thindwa is perceived by many of his fellow, more superstitious countrymen, you can read the somewhat derogatory opinion piece in the Malawi Voice, The People vs. George Thindwa.

Good luck, Mr Thindwa!

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