Mass hysteria over ‘muti’ grips village

State removes children to place of safety as family ostracised, threatened

PREMIUM

A childish taunt in a rural village has led to a campaign fuelled by vicious claims of witchcraft being levelled against a little girl.
The state has rushed to try and normalise the situation at Hlankomo village in Tabankulu but there appears to be no letting up on the madness that saw parents remove their 300 children from Hlankomo Primary School, and the Ntabankulu child, 9, her sister, 8, and brother, 3, being taken to a place of safety.
The source of the hate campaign was hinted at by the family of the vilified child, who said a neighbour claimed to overhear the child’s taunt and then cried out that witchcraft was at work.
The Grade 5 pupil at Hlankomo school, and her younger sister who is in Grade 3, have not been in class since villagers marched to the school and called for their removal three weeks ago.
The social development department confirmed the three children, whose lives were presumed to be in danger, were taken to a place of safety on Monday.
The girl’s distraught father said the neighbour claimed she overheard his daughter telling other children that she could make pupils fail by smearing muti on their pens and threatening to poison them.
This was in January.
“I was woken at 5am the following morning by my neighbours who claimed my daughter and other kids were arguing about a R5 coin which was overheard by a woman who claimed that my daughter had said that I have muti that she could use to make other learners fail at school, and she would kill them with poison.
“They showed us some red liquid substance they claimed my daughter had brought from our home saying it was the ‘poison’ she was intending to use on others.
“I then requested them to give the poison to my wife and me to drink to see if it would kill us and to prove it was not ours.
“We drank the so-called poison. It did not kill us but it made us vomit,” he said.
The children’s mother said there were never disputes between her and her child’s accusers, but there had been small disagreements with one neighbour.
“We had minor disagreements on how to address playground complaints from our children,” said the mother.
The father said the story spread like wildfire through the village, school and social media. “They threatened to pour petrol on our house and set it on fire,” he said.
On February 15, he said parents and villagers marched to the school to demand the removal of their children and when his wife went to the school on the day of the march to fetch the children, the marchers threw stones at her.
Social development department spokesperson Gcobani Maswana said despite a number of interventions from police, social workers and community leaders, the matter remained unresolved.
Maswana said an awareness campaign on the dangers of witchcraft accusations was held on February 23 and at the time it seemed like the families involved had forgiven each other. However, when the girl and her sister returned to school on Monday accompanied by police and social workers, the other parents reacted by removing their children – all 300.
“One by one, the parents removed their children from the school, leaving only the two sisters and staff on the premises. The department then felt they were in danger and decided to take them to a place of safety,” said Maswana who added that talks between villagers, police, social workers and community leaders were ongoing.
Education spokesperson Loyiso Pulumani said there had been no teaching or learning at the school since Monday.
“The school has been collapsed by villagers and parents over childish threats that were allegedly made by the learner while playing.”
Pulumani said they were trying to normalise the situation but should the girls’ lives remain in danger, the department would consider finding them an alternative school.
The Dispatch has reported on at least 10 elderly women who have been killed between 2009 and 2016 after being accused of witchcraft...

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