Traditional healers ban 'witch sniffing'

Durban, South Africa - Following a spate of incidents in which people accused of being witches have been killed, the National Traditional Healers' Association has banned the practise of "witch sniffing" by which witches are identified.

The practise, known in isiZulu as umhlahlo or ukubhula, sees a sangoma using spiritual powers to identify witches.

The ban follows the latest incident at Borabora informal settlement in Umlazi when Myeni, 86, and his common-law wife Nomathamsanqa, 85 were assaulted and burned to death by community members accusing them of practising witchcraft.

The announcement came as Umlazi police on Wednesday found the couple's 16-year-old granddaughter who had been witness to the brutal killings.

'People who say that they have these powers need to come to us and we will test them'

Zandile Sukude, 16, had managed to escape on the night of the murders and sought refuge with relatives who live out of Durban.

Police refused to supply further information on the girl's location.

Police Captain Vincent Mdunge said relatives of the murdered couple had also contacted the police and were willing to meet the investigating team.

The girl will now be united with her mother Nomzekelo Qgweza who lives in Rustenburg in North West Province.

Earlier this year in Tugela Ferry police rescued an elderly couple from an angry community who had burned down their home.

The couple was accused of killing five children - who were found dead in a car in their backyard - for muthi. Forensic tests later showed the children had died of dehydration.

Traditional healers had expressed concern about the practise of identifying witches saying that impostors were making a fortune by pretending to be witch sniffing experts.

Sazi Mhlongo, president of the KwaZulu-Natal Traditional Healers' Association, said that witch sniffing has not only been banned in the province, but around the country.

"It is absurd because there is no way that a person can tell that another is a witch by merely using bones or spiritual powers.

"People who say that they have these powers need to come to us and we will test them, but we have not yet come across any person who can sniff out witches," he said.

Mhlongo said people should beware of people who say that they can sniff out witches because they are not registered traditional healers.

"Traditional healing is a calling to heal and counsel people, but not to kill," he said.

He said the association had requested a meeting with the minister of community safety and liaison, Bheki Cele, with the aim of setting up a police unit to investigate cases involving witchcraft.

Meanwhile the Umlazi H section Community Police Forum has organised a mass meeting to be held at the weekend following the Borabora killings.

Reverend Samuel Mthembu said it was vital that they held this meeting to teach the community about vigilantism and its consequences.

Six people were arrested in connection with the murder and made a brief appearance in the Umlazi magistrates court on Tuesday.

The case was adjourned to August 30.