“Belief in witchcraft may be an extenuating circumstance, but such conduct cannot be tolerated in a civilised society”.
This was said by Judge Marlene Tommasi before she sentenced a man accused of killing a woman that he believed had bewitched his family to an effective 18 years in jail.
“The accused was convicted of having killed a woman whom he believed was a witch. He caused severe injuries with a stick, which led to her death the day following the assault.
The court took into consideration his belief in witchcraft, but felt the sentence ought to deter others who share such beliefs and that a civilised society could not condone the conduct of the accused,” she stated.
Moses Himelundilwa Alfred had pleaded not guilty at the start of his trial. He had informed Judge Marlene Tommasi he assaulted Rosalia Amukwa, who was about 62-years old, with a branch from a Mopani tree, as he believed she had bewitched his mother.
During his trial he informed the court he was told by a witchdoctor that the deceased had bewitched him and his family. He testified that he consulted several witchdoctors, who advised him that the cause of his illness and that of his brother and mother was the old woman who had bewitched them.
Judge Tommasitook into account his worldview and conceded that the accused comes from an environment where witchcraft is practiced and genuinely believed that the victim – if not stopped somehow – was going to kill him. Judge Tommasi said: “Although the court would be justified to attach some weight to this aspect as a mitigating factor, the court is mindful of the fact that it ought to deter others who contemplate killing innocent people whom they believe are bewitching them.”
She said Namibia is a civilised society where the killing of people believed to be witches cannot be condoned and that Namibian society is plagued by violent crimes: “The spilling of blood and the taking of lives has become commonplace,” she said and noted that “women, and indeed older women, are particularly vulnerable and the courts are called upon to protect this vulnerable group of women”.
She said if the sentences are too lenient, the danger exists that members of the community would take matters into their own hands. She then sentenced Alfred to 23 years in prison, of which five years were suspended on condition that he is not convicted of murder or any offence involving violence during the period of suspension.
Alfred defended himself. The State was represented by Deputy Prosecutor General Johan Pienaar.