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Witchcraft in Post-colonial Africa

Beliefs, techniques and containment strategies

by Khaukanani Mavhungu

This is a comparative ethnographic study of witchcraft and associated violence between the kingdoms of Kom and Venda in Cameroon and South Africa respectively. The book shows why despite its prevalence in both societies, witchcraft does not lead to open violence in Kom, while such large-scale violence is commonplace in Venda. It reveals that this difference can be explained by factors such as the variations in local ideas on witches, differences in the role of traditional authorities, and various state interventions on witchcraft matters. The book demonstrates, through a rich collection of detailed cases, that contrary to anthropological theory that views witchcraft as a mechanism for the expression and resolution of social tensions and conflicts, witchcraft may at times become a disturbance of amicable social relations. Witchcraft accusations may occur in a context where strained social relations have not preceded them. The knowledge and experience that people have about witchcraft is sufficient to trigger an accusation and a violent reaction. Different forms of witchcraft account for variations in witchcraft attributions and accusations. This comparison provides a valuable contribution to ongoing witchcraft policy discourse amid widespread citizen anxiety over witchcraft, and the increasing call on the post-colonial state to intervene and protect its citizens against occult aggression.

ISBN 9789956728374 | 148 pages | 216 x 140 mm | 2012 | Langaa RPCIG, Cameroon | Paperback



“Mavhungu’s thought-provoking analysis is built on an excellent and critical understanding of the literature on witch beliefs in Africa, and on meticulous field research... He makes exemplary use of his comparative material to demonstrate the diversity of beliefs in the power of witches in Africa, as well as the contrasting ways in which people in different parts of the continent deal with the experiential reality of witchcraft. [….]This is an excellent book which analyses complex issues with great insight and economy of expression. It will be of considerable use to scholars, students and the general public.”

John Sharp, Professor of Social Anthropology, University of Pretoria, South Africa

“An accomplished and intriguing comparison of the practices and containment of witchcraft in two African societies, concluding with a call to recognize the reality of witchcraft in South Africa without criminalizing the act of bewitching.”

Simon Bekker, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, Stellenbosch University, South Africa



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