Study on impact of muti murders on community
The murder of the 36-year-old Rumbidzai Manyere has led an anthropologist to journey to the Soutpansberg to gain more insight into the symbolism behind muti murders and the impact they have on the local community.
Wiebe de Jong, hailing from Amsterdam in the Netherlands, holds an MA degree in Cultural Anthropology from the Radboud University. He visited Durban during 2008 to research traditional healers and the way they offer consultation to their clients.
Since then, he has become interested in murders in which often innocent people are killed and butchered for muti or ritual purposes. According to De Jong, he found that there was a diverse community of traditional healers in Durban and muti was not a subject talked about openly.
However, it was not until he became involved with the University of Ghent, in Belgium, that De Jong decided to pursue his research further. Following a successful research proposal to the university’s Department of African Studies, where he is also a teacher and PhD-researcher, he received the green light to carry out his research.
As for his visit to the Soutpansberg region, and more specifically the Vhembe district, De Jong hopes to understand the symbolism, culture, and impact behind muti murders better. “It is important for me to understand the impact that such murders have on the community. I’m not here to turn the traditional beliefs into hocus pocus but rather to treat them with respect,” said De Jong. He added that neighbouring countries like Zimbabwe and Mozambique might also be a reason for the high rate of these type of murders. “I would not be surprised if there would be an international trade in body parts between these countries,” he said.
De Jong also explained that he was trying to see whether there was correlation between these violent types of murders and political or economic influences. “I’m still in the early days of my research, but it would seem that, especially in the Limpopo province, muti murders are motivated by economic reasons,” said De Jong.
Since his arrival in Makhado (Louis Trichardt) last Friday, De Jong has had the opportunity to visit the local Magistrate’s Court to attended the case of Freddy Azwitamisi Tshikhudo (38), who is currently suspected of killing Manyere and mutilating her body. De Jong was also able to interview Manyere’s sister, who attended the court proceedings.
De Jong also interviewed two people who were accused of a ritual murder at the Mununzu Farm outside of Elim on 16 May last year. In this particular case, the victim’s genitals were allegedly cut off before he was set alight.
De Jong believes that rumours about the impact that a muti murder might have, should not be underestimated. For example, a rumour about the strength of a particular person may be a reason to commit such a murder for some people. Furthermore, a muti murder might lead to severe violence within a community, which sometimes targets not only the suspected muti murderer but also his/her family.
“My focus will therefore not only be on the gruesome part of such murders, but rather on the impact that they have on a society. I’m looking forward to get access to and learn more about the different communities here in the Soutpansberg,” said De Jong.
People who want to learn more about De Jong’s research can contact him at Tel 076 283 0027 or 015 516 4996.