Witchcraft ban ends in Zimbabwe [Excerpts]
Zimbabwe has lifted a ban on the practice of witchcraft, repealing legislation dating back to colonial rule.
From July the government acknowledges that supernatural powers exist - but prohibits the use of magic to cause someone harm.
In 1899, colonial settlers made it a crime to accuse someone of being a witch or wizard - wary of the witch hunts in Europe a few centuries earlier which saw many people burned at the stake after such accusations.
In fact, it is not hard to find vivid stories about the use of magic.
Alfred, for example, believes that he was bewitched at work some years ago, making him partly bald.
He described how after supper one evening as he and his wife were retiring to bed his hair disappeared.
"When my wife came into the bedroom she look at me and said, 'What happened to your hair? Where's it gone?'
"She saw a bald patch from the forehead going back on the side of the head. There was no trace of it," he says.
He spent seven months visiting traditional healers to make it grow back.
There are many other accounts of the use of magic, and the new law effectively legitimises many practices of traditional healers.
These include rolling bones to foretell the future, divination, attempts to communicate with the dead, using muti - traditional powders and fetishes - to ensure the desired sex of a child.
But there will be some legal grey areas, like whether it is legal for a husband to place some charms in his bedroom - charms that may injure his wife if she is unfaithful.
The Witchcraft Suppression Act was used fairly frequently, but prosecuting someone under the new legislation may prove difficult.
The new Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act will demand proof that a person has supernatural powers and that they are using them to harm others.
"It's not going to be easy task," says Custom Kachambwa, a judge with years of experience in the legal field.
He says witnesses will often be traditional healers, who could be accused of practising harmful magic in the future.
But whatever the problems, the repealing of the witchcraft laws is another sign that Zimbabwe's government is continuing to move away from Western values and placing more emphasis on the country's own traditions.
(Vickers, BBC, Harare, July 2, 2006, news.bbc.co.uk)