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Suspended jail term for witch
04/06/2009 00:00:00
by Lebo Nkatazo
 
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A SELF-CONFESSED witch has been given a wholly suspended one-year prison term by a Zimbabwean magistrate.

Harare Magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe passed the sentence on Thursday after a psychiatrist who assessed Regina Sveto, 21, found her to be mentally stable.
 
“I am of the view that a custodial sentence would result in miscarriage of justice, community service would be parading the accused in public, and a fine would trivialise the offence. I am of the view that a wholly suspended 12 months term will do justice in this case,” Guvamombe said.
 
The magistrate described witchcraft as unproductive, divisive and a trade that spreads fear and emotions in society.
 
He said in arriving at the verdict, he had taken into consideration the fact that the convicted person was young, a first offender and that the stigma which she would suffer would be additional punishment.
 
The magistrate said he had also considered the fact that the accused had not wasted the court’s time as she pleaded guilty to charges of public indecency and practising witchcraft.
 
Guvamombe said witchcraft was "riddled with secrecy and supernatural powers”. By pleading guilty, he said, Svetu had been helpful as it was going to be difficult for the State to prove its case.

The woman claimed in court last week that she had “flown” from Murehwa, some 120km east of Harare, with her father-in-law and an aunt – both of whom she accuses of being witches. Their winnowing basket aircraft taxied off from a graveyard in Zihute Village under Chief Mangwende, and their mission was to kill her brother-in-law, she said.

Once at the house in Highfield suburb, she claims she balked when asked to kill her brother-in-law. Her father-in-law, named in court as Elias Zemba, and the aunt, Filda Zemba, then took off and abandoned her.

She was seen by passers-by stark naked outside the house just after 6AM on May 23. She had to be saved from an angry mob who threw stones at her by the brother-in-law she claims she was on a mission to kill.

A witchcraft expert testified in court last week that the woman’s tale was probably true.


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“Witches do a lot of this (flying on winnowing baskets) and they are known to travel naked at night. It is also possible for witches to travel as far as South Africa during the night for the purposes of witchcraft, flying back as soon as their mission is accomplished,” said Sekuru Nelson Jambaya, the vice president of the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association (ZINATHA).

Before passing sentence on Thursday, the magistrate asked Sveto’s husband Colleen Zemba if he was prepared to take his wife back to which he replied: “Yes.”

“Do you have machinery to treat her,” the magistrate asked the husband again, to which Zemba replied: “We don’t know anywhere to go. We will run around. Maybe ZINATHA will help us.”

Zemba said he did not blame his wife, claiming she had unwillingly been initiated into witchcraft by his father.

Zemba, in his late 20s, appeared to fight back tears during the hearing.

Chief Jonathan Mangwende testified in the matter after the magistrate said he wanted his help in passing a sentence that would be helpful to the offender.
 
The traditional leader asked the magistrate to pardon and release his subject. Apart from that, the chief was decidedly unhelpful.
 
When the magistrate asked Sveto if he had any request to make to the traditional leader, she said: “I have a request that if they can forgive me, when I go home I can take some measures against my in-law because of this disgrace that he has put on me at this young age.”
 
The chief said there was nothing he could do for her. At that point, Sveto said she had no further request.
 
When the chief was again asked by the magistrate what could be done so that his subject is set free from witchcraft, he replied: “It will not end.”
 
When asked if there was a procedure through which he could help with the cleansing of his subject, he told the magistrate: “There is nothing like that, one has to find help for herself.”
 
Asked to recommend a sentence to the court, chief Mangwende said: “She has to pay a bovine.”
 
As the chief testified, Sveto kept rubbing salt on her fingers and face -- thought to be for preventing her from becoming possessed as in the last hearing.
 
The case is thought to be the first successful prosecution of a witch in Zimbabwe after a 2006 law was passed which criminalises the practise of witchcraft.

Prosecutors say they want to charge Sveto's father in law and aunt for practisign witchcraft. She is expected to be the star State witness.


 
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