The recent announcement by the Zambian Minister of Higher Education, Professor Nkandu Luo that Zambian Universities should begin thinking of conducting research within the areas of witchcraft and wizardry should not be taken lightly or as a joke, let alone be something that she should get insulted for. The Zambian public need to understand that these are not personal thoughts from the Minister, but simply delving into an agenda that is already being championed collectively far and beyond the Zambian borders. You might like to know that, in a similar manner, her counterpart, the Minister of Higher Education in South Africa equally announced that their country is on the verge of introducing degree programmes within Witchcraft and Wizardry in their Universities countrywide. So, the question is, why this coincidence and why now? Africa has in some ways awakened from the colonial indoctrination and wants to chart its own destiny by consciously decolonising the African minds. However, this can only be achieved by having knowledge that is produced by Africans and able to accommodate thought from the African viewpoint of understanding physical and social phenomenon operating in its` midst. Science whether social or natural as we know it today, is a creation of Western modernity and has absolutely no room for progressive African ideas. Thus, this timely battle to include pure African Sciences in the formal knowledge systems of the global society.
In Zambia, the announcement has attracted a number of negative reactions from all corners of society and different walks of life. Social media has naturally led the battle against Luo`s way of thinking, with some people even going as far as suggesting that she relinquishes her ministerial position because she has sold Zambia to the underworld, viz a viz the Devil. However, I want to challenge the Zambian public that research on witchcraft and wizardry is needed now more than ever before. Firstly, witchcraft and wizardry has never been officially proved if it really exists among us, it could just be another myth. Thus, research into this school of thought is needed in order for society to know if it genuinely occurs in real time and indeed in our physical space. Secondly, if it does exist, what lessons can we learn from it? Can it completely be against development in our physical society, what if it has pockets of positivity and progressive aspects within it? Could we then change our approach towards it? These questions are so difficult to answer for as long as this is practised (if at all it is practised) in secrecy and outside common discourse. Against this background, there is a serious need to explore it academically so that it can be explained in the mainstream public discourse and conventional educational processes. Although the Zambian society is so jittery about the proposed research, it could simply mean a study of a natural order of morality in which the existence of witchcraft and wizardry with its actions and effects are defined and/or substantiated. This is because, seemingly at the moment, this phenomenon is largely presupposed than substantiated, simply put, a myth that still has matters of detail to discuss openly.
What society needs to understand is that the wider global society is changing as there are now more questions than answers. What if the science behind witchcraft and wizardry has just been suppressed and demonised by the Western discourse in order to protect its interests in Africa. Do you realise that even a cell phone is technically witchcraft and wizardry? How does a voice get transmitted into thin air across continents cordlessly? Do you know that even the latest sex doll is witchcraft and wizardry? How does a lifeless doll perform sexual responsibilities just like a human being? We need to ask ourselves these important questions. Otherwise, the difference between African witchcraft and Western witchcraft is that the experts behind Western witchcraft have been given an opportunity to explain what really goes on in a cell phone or the sex doll, thus we are comfortable with these gadgets through Western marketing and promotion. On the other hand, the experts behind African witchcraft have not been given the opportunity to explain what really goes on in their business. This is because theirs have seemingly been demonised and negatively branded without really understanding their side of the story. Thus, it is all wrapped in secrecy as its` possibility of being a genuine occurrence in the physical world remains in the doldrums of public sense.
Of course, the biggest criticism (could be a myth) about African witchcraft and wizardry is that it is fuelled by human blood and body parts, this could be true, and could be false as well. Therefore, that is the reason for a consideration to allow its` manifestation in the mainstream education discourse so that people can prove whether this is what really goes on. Consequently, if it really does use human blood and body parts, can the experts through research find alternatives that do not claim people’s lives then? The cell phone within the Western witchcraft discourse equally had blood on its hands because of the lives that have been lost in the Congo as a result of mining Coltan, the mineral that is vital to its` production, thankfully, alternatives were found through research, and the killings in the Congo related to the mineral have greatly been minimised. Thus, the biggest problem we have in Africa, Zambia in particular is that we fear the unknown, we are too afraid to explore certain realities of our own society, even when we see these as problems that need aggressive attention for solutions.
If witchcraft and wizardry exists in our society, then we must not wait for the West to come and find out about its` truth and legitimacy, we need to do it ourselves and find out its implications on our society, positive or negative. For example, if what we hear is true, that in Mununga District of Luapula Province one can buy lightning and thunder at the market, then Zesco could be the biggest beneficiary, because lightning produces masses of megawatts and the now traditional and wretched load shedding will be a thing of the past. In addition, we have also heard that in Kalabo District of Western Province, it is possible to put a head of 37 cattle on a handkerchief, put it in the pocket, and jump on a public bus to Lusaka for sale. If that is also true, then transport costs for livestock could be drastically cut down and have a directly positive impact on the country’s economy. I believe that this unmapped part of science has to be allowed room for unmasking, and if found to be too negative, then be completely erased from society like Europe did about 500 years ago. If it is only partially positive, then alternatives to the gaps should equally be found and a way forward charted. Bravo Nkandu Luo, I salute your courage to add your voice to this controversy at a time when people with such divergent views are being labelled as Satanists.
By Kabanda Mwansa
The author is a Zambian social commentator and a PhD research fellow at Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences.