Johannesburg - There are many beliefs, some ancient and others recently invented, held to be true by large numbers of black communities or groups.
These beliefs concern other people, the causes of their life circumstances and the turn of events which undermine human rights, dignity and ultimately development.
Such dangerous beliefs, which often cause unspeakable harm to others or themselves, must not only be re-evaluated, but firmly rejected at individual, societal and legal level.
Muthi has generally come to be known as a term for African traditional medicine prepared from plants or animals.
However, the concept of muthi has now morphed into a number of harmful beliefs.
A case in point is that many wrongly believe that because former President Jacob Zuma has so far escaped prosecution concerning the countless allegations, investigations and inquiries into corruption, mismanagement and patronage against him, he must have “strong”muthi.
Over the years, Zuma has used every legal loophole to escape prosecution, has “captured” prosecuting authorities, oversight bodies and regulators by appointing loyalists to protect him, and has often manipulated the truth to portray himself as the victim, rather than the perpetrator.
Yet, instead of holding Zuma accountable for his actions, which have often resulted in countless losing their lives, jobs and opportunities, the gullible, naïve and mistaken praise his supposedly strong “muthi”.
This type of false belief means that many cynical African leaders such as Zuma can get away with corruption, mismanagement and abuse - which keeps their supporters, voters and countries poor, without them being held accountable.
Similarly, when former SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng ran the SABC into the ground, making many journalists unemployed, collapsing suppliers and destroying countless families in the process, many whispered he got away with it because his mother is allegedly a sangoma, and supposedly gave him “strong” muthi, to “protect” him from being held accountable.
Motsoeneng and the ANC leaders who appointed him to protect their interests gave them uncritical “sunshine” media coverage and vilify their critics, should have been held personally accountable for the terrifying damage they wrought.
At the grassroots level, corrupt traditional “healers”, “sangomas” and “shamans” and “shawomans” are profiteering from providing “muthi” to the desperate by promising it will solve their personal problems, win the hearts of lovers and give them instant riches.
Such false promises to the desperate must be treated as crime.
Increasingly, body parts of humans are now also being used to make muthi. A typical incident was the arrest in 2015 of two sangomas implicated in the disappearance of three-year-old Leticia Nkentjane in Boschfontein, Mpumalanga.
The Nelspruit Regional Court then heard that sangomas, Jabulani Ndlovu and Themba Mnyambo allegedly used the girl’s body for muthi. The two denied the allegations.
Communities accusing people who they deem to be behaving differently to themselves have also caused terrible harm. Again, a typical case was in 2015, when 12 people were arrested after a KwaMashu resident was beaten and burnt alive by a mob which had accused him of witchcraft.
Jabulani Nkunzikayibekwa Nxumalo was asleep in his shack at the Qhakaza informal settlement when a mob stormed into his house and severely beat him, after they accused him of being involved in witchcraft in the area. He died following the attack.
Tanzania’s Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), has estimated as many as 500 “witches” are lynched every year in that country, saying that around 3 000 people were killed there between 2005 and 2011 after being accused of witchcraft. Again, a typical case was when seven people accused of witchcraft were burned alive in 2014
In 2015, then Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe astonishingly blamed his then rival, former Zimbabwean vice-president Joice Mujuru, of being a witch for daring to challenge his leadership.
Publicly talking about harmful beliefs in African communities is often also taboo.
Yet, speaking about it, and prohibiting such wrong beliefs socially, culturally and legally is crucial to stopping their spread.
* Gumede is chairman of Democracy Works Foundation, and author of South Africa in BRICS (Tafelberg)
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.