'Men are not accused or killed for being witches'

Mhlaba Memela

Mhlaba Memela

A little boy's tattletale about a dead squirrel was enough to turn a community into a bloodthirsty mob ready to take out 72-year-old Ntombikayise Zulu.

But the police and provincial government officials stepped in to ensure the eMondlo pensioner's life was spared when she appeared before a tribal court facing charges of witchcraft.

"Everyone has a right to life. As the government it is our responsibility to ensure that people are not being killed because of such allegations," Nonhlanhla Mkhize, director of human's right in the KwaZulu-Natal premier's office, said yesterday.

"Normally when women get older and lose their hair they are accused of being witches.

"We have never heard of men being accused of witchcraft. We cannot allow this kind of discrimination in our society," she said.

Mkhize said the provincial government and Premier S'bu Ndebele were concerned about the way people behaved when women were accused of witchcraft.

She said it was the government' s mandate to educate people against conduct that perpetuated violence .

On the evening before the tribal trial, police rescued Zulu by whisking her away from her home.

And it was the last minute involvement of a KwaZulu-Natal government task team involving police and representatives from the premier's office that ensured that the situation yesterday was kept under control.

Yesterday morning Zulu entered the tribal court amid tight security as infuriated residents vowed to stone to her to death and burn her home. Some shouted that she ought to leave the area immediately.

The matter between Zulu and her accusers and relatives, the Sibiya family, was held under the watchful eye of an armed police guard before tribal Inkosi Bibi Mdlalose.

A tearful Zulu, who has lived in the area for 38 years, told the court that she had never practised witchcraft.

"This is the first time I am being accused of such evil," she said.

During testimony it emerged that Zulu's nine-year-old grandson had told the community and the Sibiya family that his grandmother was practising witchcraft.

Last month an ubhozo (squirrel) which hunted chickens in the neighbourhood was killed.

Zulu's grandson went home and told the Sibiyas that his grandmother had vowed to murder the entire family, including himself, because their dogs had killed her "witchcraft weapon".

Chief Mdlalose urged his community not to intimidate Zulu.

"My headmen will take care of her to ensure that she is safe."

He called on the Sibiyas and Zulus to resolve their differences.