Malawi president to crack down on vampires, witchcraft after lynchings

 13 Oct 2017 - 18:48

Malawi president to crack down on vampires, witchcraft after lynchings
Malawi's President Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party waves to supporters after he was sworn in in Blantyre May 31, 2014. Reuters/Eldson Chagara

Reuters & AFP

LILONGWE:  Malawi President Peter Mutharika on Friday warned suspected vampires to stop terrorising people and told village chiefs to stamp down on witchcraft.

His calls came as a vampire scare in two districts triggered mob violence and left six people dead. Lynch mobs accusing people of vampirism have been on the rampage since mid-September.

“If people are using witchcraft to suck people’s blood, I will deal with them and I ask them to stop doing that with immediate effect,” Mutharika told a community gathering leaders in Mulanje, a district with the highest incidences.

On Monday the United Nations pulled staff out of two districts that have been swept up in the violence.

Belief in witchcraft is widespread in rural Malawi, one of the world’s poorest countries, where many aid agencies and NGO’s work. A spate of vigilante violence linked to a vampire rumours also erupted in Malawi in 2002.

Since mid-September, vigilantes have slaughtered seven people suspected of trying to obtain and drink human blood as part of magic rituals.

The vampire rumours sweeping the country's southern region have forced authorities to impose a night-time curfew, restricting movement to 10 hours from 7:00am (0500 GMT) until 5:00pm (1500 GMT).

The UN -- which is involved in food aid and agricultural assistance programmes -- has pulled its workers out of the area for safety reasons.

Although the attacks are not targeted at UN staff, the UN instructed all its personnel working in the affected areas to temporarily "relocate" to the commercial capital Blantyre, 90 kilometres (55 miles) away.

Four districts in southern parts of the country have been swept by rumours of bloodsucking humans, but Mulanje, which borders Mozambique, is the epicentre of the killings.

In a report last week and obtained by AFP Tuesday, the UN said it had suspended all visits to the affected areas because the "situation is still unstable and volatile".

"We have instituted an intensive investigation for us to get to the bottom of the matter," the president said in a statement.

Police told AFP a seventh person was killed by an angry mob on Monday in Thyolo, the president's home district.

The latest victim, a mentally-retarded man, was found loitering at night in a village and was lynched by vigilantes who suspected he was pretending to be insane, said police spokesman Lloyd Maida.

Rumours of vampires allegedly originated from Mozambique and "spread across" the borders to the Malawian districts of Mulanje and Phalombe, according to the UN.

Malawi, where witchcraft is widely believed and education standards are low, is regularly dogged by rumours of "vampire" activity.

The United States embassy has also temporarily withdrawn its team of Peace Corps volunteers from the districts surrounding Mulanje and has advised its citizens not to visit the affected districts.