A LIMPOPO man who chased his mother with an axe because he believed she was a witch, and who was sentenced to a three-year jail term by a lower court, was given a reprieve by the Pretoria High Court.

The court found the sentence too harsh and halved it.

Lazarus Mohlala was earlier convicted under a section of the Witchcraft Suppression Act of 1957. This act states that it is an offence to accuse someone of being a witch and to then accuse the person of using these powers to harm others.

It emerged during the trial in Limpopo that Mohlala accused his elderly mother (her name was not stated in this judgment) of being a witch, and told others within the community that she had caused the deaths of her husband and her children.

This was not the first time that Mohlala had turned against his mother, as a case similar to this one was pending against him at the time when he tried to hack his mother to death.

On the day of the incident, Mohlala was on his way back from court following a hearing in that case when he ran after her with an axe and threatened to kill her. The reason was that he did not want her to testify against him because he believed she was a witch.

The terrified mother told the court she was so afraid of her son that she did not go home but slept in the bush.

The matter came under review at the high court, and Judge Bert Bam asked the presiding magistrate in Limpopo for his reasons in sentencing Mohlala to a “harsh” three years’ imprisonment.

The magistrate responded that this offence was prevalent in Limpopo and many victims of this crime have often been killed or maimed by their accusers.

Many people living in rural areas were susceptible to rumours of others being involved in witchcraft, he said.

Judge Bam said the fact that Mohlala named his mother as a witch was indeed serious and he pointed out that a person could be imprisoned for up to 10 years for such an offence.

He also seemed to be a person with a violent tendency, the judge said, as he had four previous convictions of assault.

But the judge added that three years’ jail seemed “disturbingly inappropriate”, to which the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions agreed.