They Lynch You for Simply Having Red Eyes

If you are an elderly person in western Tanzania, you are at risk of being lynched any time. If you are an old woman, you are more vulnerable. Worse still if you have red eyes; for whatever reason you can be a target of hired gangs who kill anyone they suspect of witchcraft.

According to the research conducted by a Mwanza-based non governmental organisation, Concern for the Elderly (COEL), 6,710 elderly people, mostly women, have been lynched in Tanzania's Lake Victoria regions of Shinyanga, Tabora and Mwanza between 1998 and 2004.

The research findings show that although some of the killings were linked to other reasons, 80 per cent were directly attributed to allegations of witchcraft.

Releasing the research findings in Mwanza two weeks ago during a four-day seminar for journalists, the executive director of COEL, Jamaton Magodi, said lack of good governance, democracy in the rural areas and ignorance fuelled the killings.

Traditional beliefs that attribute every human death to witchcraft have led to a mushrooming of witchdoctors who roam the villages claiming they can identify witches.

"The worst thing is that most bereaved family members consult witchdoctors in order to avenge the deaths of their loved ones," said Magodi. "Life has become worse in these communities when people tend to believe that even diseases like HIV/Aids, malaria, and typhoid fever are caused by witchcraft."

The research showed that Shinyanga region was the most notorious for killing elderly people, whereby during the period under study some 2,750 elders were lynched, followed by Tabora region that recorded 2,250 deaths and Mwanza with 1,680 deaths.

These killings have become a lucrative business for killers as it costs between 10 and 15 heads of cattle to kill one person.

Magodi said all elderly people whose eyes are red are accused of being witches and they've become victims of lynching.

But the reasons why most women have red eyes includes their traditional method of preparing food, whereby firewood and animal dung are the major source of energy for cooking.

They tend to stay in smoky houses because of their poor economic status in the community as they have no one to look after them.