The hated witches of Malawi

SURVEY – In this quiet southern African country, witch hunts are not commonplace. For many reasons, old beliefs are invoked and women find themselves banished from their villages, mistreated, when they are not lynched. The State is struggling to change mentalities, especially in the countryside.

Blantyre, Blantyre, Lilongwe (Malawi)

The terrace is a little raised, so the elderly woman with blue ribbon hair scrambles up, her hands gripping the wooden steps, her stiff leg trailing behind. “If I really had magical powers, I would fly to my door!”, Annie Mvula squeaks. No neighbor dares approach to help this frail lady to climb the small staircase that leads to her house. Only Saidi, his brother, runs up as soon as he sees the scene. “He’s always there for me: he’s the only one!” The grandmother smiles, finally installed on the dried earth square, leaning against the wall.

Annie is the village witch. At least, that’s what’s being said here in Zalirana, a discreet hamlet perched on a verdant hill in central Malawi. Ten years ago, this uneventful widow suffered from the worst social stigma in this southern African country: being accused of witchcraft.

“I was sitting in front of my house. I watched the cornfields, trying

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