Last week, five women were murdered by a mob in Tanzania. Accused of witchcraft, they are only a small portion of the 75 other women killed this month in Dar es Salaam. A Human Rights group known as Legal and Human Rights Centre has reported that 479 people have been murdered this year by vigilante mobs.

These violent witch hunts have resulted in lynchings, stabbings, and even burnings. Most of the victims are elderly women. Murders like these have been taking place in Tanzania for decades, but have seen a significant rise over the last few years.

Politics and Witchcraft

The executive director of Legal and Human Rights Centre, Helen Kijo-Bisimba, said in the report that human rights violations have been on the rise recently. She blamed this partly on political issues. President John Magufuli has placed many restrictions on freedoms and has banned political activities until 2020.

Witchcraft in East African traditions has been a large part of Tanzanian culture throughout history. It is commonly used to explain away misfortune, infertility, poor harvests, illness, and death. The majority of the population still believes in witchcraft.

In 2011, after the murders of over 600 women suspected as witches, the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life conducted face-to-face interviews with 25,000 people in 19 different African countries.

The study revealed that 60% of Tanzanians strongly believed in witchcraft, making it the top country in the study to still hold onto these beliefs.

Mob Mentality

Even though many people still believe in witchcraft, it is not wise to practice openly anymore. Many people fear the craft and will blame suspected witches for any misfortune that befalls their families.

The mobs that have been kidnapping and murdering women are made up of civilians. Their actions are illegal, and the local police are searching for them.

Tabora regional police commander Wilbroad Mtafungwa has launched a man hunt in response to the witch hunt. The investigation is on-going, but the police have managed to arrest several suspects.

Human rights activists have strongly condemned the killings. They also argue that the police are not doing enough to keep the elderly women in the city safe. Prosecution for the murderers rarely comes about, leaving the women who are most likely to face violence to feel like they are not safe.

The condemnation of women as witches is a tale as old as time. Countless women have been murdered in the most brutal ways imaginable all throughout history. It appears that these witch hunts will never truly see an end.