THE trial and sentencing of Regina Sveto for practising witchcraft raises more questions than answers.
It is my submission that the amendment of the Witchcraft Suppression Act which made it an offence to accuse someone of being a witch will leave a lot of women vulnerable to this draconian and archaic piece of legislation which should not have any place in the current dispensation.
If the evidence that was adduced before the learned senior judicial officer indicated that the (naked) woman was possessed by evil spirits which restrained her from acting reasonably the best remedial action would have been to refer her to a qualified medical practitioner in terms of the Mental Health Act.
I have seen a lot of mental health patients who got treated and led normal lives in the end. I believe Sveto falls in the same category of mentally retarded people and needs to be helped. It is very unfair, irrational and unjust to subject the victim of evil spirits to prison (though in Svetoâ€™s case sentence was suspended as she was a first offender and because of her age) when the best option cure.
Interestingly, it was reported in the media that one chief whom the court used as an expert witness in the case indicated after the court had passed its verdict that the accused should pay a beast for the offence as per our customary law.
The question is how objective, credible or admissible can evidence given by the chiefs be in such cases when they are material beneficiaries of the due process? What happens in the event that the accused fails to raise money to buy a beast for the chief for the fine? Considering that the learned magistrate saw it fit to give the accused a wholly suspended sentence, how did the chief arrive at his quantum of fine?
At the end of nearly every year when Form Twos, Fours and Sixes are about to write public exams we get reports of school girls becoming victims of mamhepo (hysterical problems which I believe are due to puberty) where they utter a lot of nonsense, in some cases alleging that they have been bewitched by their fellow students or relatives.
If the current witchcraft law is applied to these young schoolgirls may also be found guilty. The question for our legislators and, in particular, the parliamentary legal committee is: Did you apply yourselves diligently before repealing the Witchcraft Act?
The weakness of the law is that it is common for African relatives to accuse people who work hard and are successful of being in possession of zvikwambo (goblins) and this is destructive. I believe that Svetoâ€™s case should be brought to the High Court for review because this law falls in the category of Sharia law which should not have any place in statutes in these modern times. Much work should be done on this issue.