It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself. ~ Thomas Jefferson


C himunthu Banda, Hetherwick Ntaba, Vuwa Kaunda - government's spokesmen muddying human rights with the gay issue

Monday, February 28, 2011


When I opened my (Malawi Sunday Times yesterday I could have been forgiven for thinking that it was a Secular Sabbath edition!
The regular Science & Critical Thinking column had been moved from obscurity at the tail end of the Religion section and has been given a prominent position on the inside of the Letters page. Not only that, it had been highlighted and sits opposite several of the regular columnists. Promotion!
Next came a two opposing page debate on the criminalisation/decriminalisation issue of homosexuality. Executive Secretary, George Thindwa had a page on which to argue for decriminalisation.
On the front page of the Religion section and on the following page was an article expounding Bishop Tutu's pro-gay arguments. While we humanists may not agree with the religious sentiment, it is worth repeating the closing paragraphs:
Besides what he describes as intolerance from politicians, Tutu also described the largest offence as those doing it in the name of God. He challenged them to show himwhere Jesus Christ said "Love thy fellow man, except for the gay ones." Gay people, too, are made in my God's image. I would never worship a homophobic God."
"But they are sinners," I can hear the preachers and politicians say. "They are choosing a life of sin for which they must be punished." My scientist and medical friends have shared with me a reality that so many gay people have confirmed, I now know it in my heart to be true. No one chooses to be gay. Sexual orientation, like skin colour, is another feature of our diversity as a human family."
"Isn't it amazing that we are all made in God's image, and yet here is so much diversity among his people? Does God love his dark- or his light-skinned children less? The brave more than the timid? And does any of us know the mind of God so well that we can decide for him who is included, and who is excludd, from the circle of his love?," asked Tutu.
"Malawi is a god-fearing nation"
This is the trite phrase that is trotted out to stop all argument! And now - as a bonus - her regular column, This World Around Me,  Deborah Nyangulu-Chipofya cries ENOUGH! In a very well argued piece she says, amongst other things: "Simply put 'We are a god-fearing nation' has become a sort of verbal bogeyman to scare off people with alternat views. And for the most part God-fearing propogandists are intolerant people who want to oppress minorities."
She ends her article with: "I hope this article won't cost me my citizenship in this God-fearing nation. But the I just want to make sense of this god-fearing talk and help avoid a situation where we would wake up one morning to be told that we can't question the autority of the President because we are a God-fearing nation."
It looks as if ASH's efforts are paying off and the whole editorial staff have had a second look at balance. Perhaps, also, they have started to think a little more critically about these issues. This is a very big change from several months ago.
We are grateful to the Editorial staff of the Sunday Times for taking a more open approach.


By Harold Williams
Published in Malawi's Sunday Times of 27th February 2011
The most heinous and the most cruel crimes of which history has record have been committed under the cover of religion or equally noble motives. Mahatma Gandhi

The man sitting next to me in the Western Union office picked up a magazine. “That’s the best American President ever,” – pointing to a photo of Franklin D. Roosevelt. “That man was good, too”, pointing to Abraham Lincoln, “but that man, George W. Bush, is a Devil.”
I will not discuss the rights and wrongs of two ongoing wars or make any judgment on the Bush Presidency. Iraq a once almost secular state, is now deeply divided by faith. Sunni Muslims are killing Shia. Muslim ‘fundamentalists’ attack Christians. Afghanistan looks set to fail. Al Quaeda, the real enemy, has moved on to the Mahgreb, Yemen and the Horn of Africa.
Hundreds of thousands have died in Iraq and Afghanistan both at the hands of the ‘Allied’ troops and by religious factions. Many are guided by faith and the invisible hand of ‘god’.
In Elusive Peace: Israel and the Arabs, a three-part series on BBC, Abu Mazen, Palestinian Prime Minister, and Nabil Shaath, his Foreign Minister, describe their first meeting with President Bush in June 2003.
"President Bush said: 'I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, "George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan." And I did, and then God would tell me, "George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq …" And I did. And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, "Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East." And by God I'm gonna do it.'"
Bruce Bartlett a former policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and a treasury official for the first President Bush, reported
''I think a light has gone off for people who've spent time up close to Bush (Jr): that this instinct he's always talking about is this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do.''
Bartlett, a 53-year-old columnist and self-described libertarian Republican who was a champion for traditional Republicans concerned about Bush's governance, went on to say:
 ''This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all; they can't be persuaded; that they're extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he's just like them. . . . This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts. He truly believes he's on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence. But you can't run the world on faith.''

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Science & Critical Thinking
Thank you, Bishop Kambalazaza
By Harold Williams  Published in Malawi's Sunday Times, 20 January, 2011
All gods are homemade, and it is we who pull their strings, and so, give them the power to pull ours. Aldous Huxley.
(Self-styled charismatic 'Bishop' Kambalazaza featured in a full page article attacking Secular Humanists in Malawi)
Thank you, Bishop Kambalalaza, for bringing my god back to life. His name is Thor. You haven’t heard of him? His name is a noun – a personal noun. And by your own definition anything that is a noun MUST EXIST. I thought this God of my Teutonic ancestors was dead, slaughtered by monotheistic myths from the deserts of Arabia. He is only one of a logical pantheon that my ancestors worshipped.
Poor Thor - no longer worshipped! He gave his name to a day of the week – Thor’s-day. The French call it Mardi for the Roman/Latin god, Mars. ‘Mardi Gras’ is ‘Lachinai la mafuta’ a day when people go wild, in ways that the ancient Romans would have loved, with parades that all sexually-oppressed Christians should condemn. In Rio de Janeiro, they celebrate with their lewd Carnival. In New Orleans’ Mardi Gras parade, Christians have a wild time fooling themselves that they are having a good old Christian fling on Holy Thursday before the period of self-denial that they call Lent – an ancient Germanic name, still in use, for the European planting season of Spring. It is a pagan festival of insemination, fertility and birth taken over by Christianity.
Moon-day is the day of the Goddess of the moon. Latinate speakers use the root ‘luna’ – ‘moon’ – as the base for French ‘lundi’ ; Spanish ‘lunes’; Italian ‘lunedi’. The god Wodin gave his name to Wodin’s-day. The Latin god was Mercury - ‘mercredi’ (French), ‘miercoles’ (Spanish), ‘mercoledi’ (Italian). The god ‘Frigg’  of my ancestors, ‘Venus’ of the Romans gave us – Frigg’s-day and Vendredi. The god Saturn gave us Saturn’s-day, the ‘sabbath’.
Thank you, Bishop, for bringing these nouns-gods back to life.
By your definition, if man has named it, it MUST EXIST - just like dragons and fairies. And you expect atheists to disprove your wild imaginings? It is for you to provide the proof. My imagination cannot fill in by wishful thinking what my intellect rejects. No one has come back after death to say they have seen god. Not revelation but the logic that I use for other phenomena will guide my beliefs.
My northern European ancestors gave up their own gods for the Christian god who had migrated over centuries, originally the god of Jesus the Jew, from Palestine through Greece and Rome. In the process Christianity underwent many man-made changes adopting Christmas, Easter, the Trinity, the virgin mother – oh, a whole host of stuff not mentioned in the Bible – familiar concepts from their old religions to make the new religion acceptable to people unhappy to give up their ancient gods, more often not through spiritual conversion but on the command of their rulers.
Over a hundred and fifty years ago the Europeans brought their god to Malawi. The majority in Malawi adopted the ruler’s religion.
God-nouns still exist. If being a ‘noun’ proves existence then all the gods of all times, in all regions, still exist. So how can there be only one true god? Or are all these gods really one god?
How to decide on the conflicting claims? War amongst religions of ‘peace’ is the normal outcome!
Coming upon so many conflicting and equally ridiculous concepts of god, we must agree that all gods are merely the inventions of man.
 In rejecting all gods, including the gods of my ancestors, we acknowledge that all are equally illogical.


Television debate - preaching the Gospel on inter-city buses

Pictured above, ASH's Vice Chairman, Harold Williams in TV debate with evangelical pastor on Sunday afternoon, 20th February. This is the third occasion on which Williams has  participated. Executive Secretary George Thindwa and former Blantyre Branch Chairman, Samuel Magombo, have also debated on this popular PDF Programme.
Evangelical preachers have taken to the main route inter-city buses where their captive audiences are harangued from the point of departure to some ten or more kilometers along the route when these mendicants solicit offerings from the god-fearing passengers before catching a return bus.
In a recent incident which featured in the national newspapers, ASH's Executive Secretary, George Thindwa, who objected to bejing subjected to this 'torture', was accused of Satanism. The bus driver and others, fearing his 'evil' influence, forced him off the bus at a Police road block after several hours of altercation.
The majority of the viewers  who phoned in during the programme were not in favour of preachers on board buses.

Free the Imprisoned Witches petition featured in on-line newspaper
The current on-line petition was featured in the popular on-line Malawi newspaper, Nyasa Times. The article expanded on the activities of ASH in relation to the campaign against witchcraft. The full article can be read at:


The sad case of an imprisoned 'witch'
 Late in 2010 ASH members visited prisons in Malawi to ascertain the status of the 'witches' with a view to presenting a full list for consideration by the President for release at Christmas time. It has been the custom, at Christmas time for all Presidents of Malawi to release prisoners on the recommendations of the Commissioner of Prisons. Ash's sensitisation of senior justice officials as well as the prison authorities was intended to ensure that all so-called witches would be on that list.
Blantyre-based Harold Williams visited the prison at Chichiri, Blantyre, he found that one old man had been sent to hospital as chronically ill. He explains:
When I arrived at the hospital I found this little old man, Lefikesi Tadzerankhani, aged almost 80, in his prison 'whites', in one of the main wards at the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital. He had been staying there without a prison guard. I learnt from the medical staff that he had a chronic heart problem. He was quite bright and was reported by the nursing staff as being very popular with his fellow patients being quite a comic. He comes from a remote rural area on Malawi's southern border with Mozambique. He and his brother and brother's wife had all been convicted and imprisoned in Chikwawa some 80 km from Blantyre. Because of ill-health he was transferred to Chichiri Prison where he would be closer to specialist medical attention.
I informed him of our efforts to have him and others released and asked him how he would fare if he were to return to his home village. He explained that his house had fallen down while he was in hospital and he was too weak to rebuild it.
The prison, the hospital and the TV studio are all within a few kilometers of each other. My visit to the TV station gave me an opportunity to follow up on Tadzerankhani. There was no sign of him at the hospital and no record of his discharge. I went to the prison to enquire. He was brought to see me in a wheelchair. His condition had deteriorated. His arms and legs were swollen, his stomach distended and he was not the same cheerful old man I had found in the hospital. I left him with some sweet ornage squash and a few packets of biscuits and some money with his prisoner/carer to buy some soap, promising to come on the Monday to see the Medical Officer to find out what could be done to help him.
On Monday I met with the Medical Officer, an ardent believer in witchcraft and apparently not too happy that we were trying to assist these 'public enemies'. He told me that Tadzerankhani had had a TB infection of the heart which was now cured but that the heart was permanently damaged. He attributed the swellings to malnutrition, the result of the poor prison diet, and stated that we would have to arrange for better food to be brought to him. He volunteered the information that he had visited the prisoner's village to ascertain whether the villagers would be happy to see him back home. Unfortunately, the people were not keen to see him return because he had been the village headman and someone else wanted that position. It may be that the chieftainship issue could have been a motive in his being implicated in witchcraft.
I learnt, also, that a special plea had been made in the Comnissioner's recommendations to the President but that there had, unusually, been no traditional presidential clemency during Christmas of 2010.
We will now have to ascertain what would be the best diet for this poor old man and arrange for the regular delivery to the prison.
In discussions with the prison MO on the question of witchcraft I was told that, as a white man, I could not understand it but, that had I been an African I would also be quite sure of the reality. He blamed the old people for teaching the children to kill their parents!

I would like to put in a few words of praise for the prison staff. They have been very cooperative and understanding. I, and other members of ASH, have noted the excellent relationship between the staff and the prisoners. Our impression is that prison staff are doing the best they can under very difficult circumstances. Readers used to TV depictions of prisons in America and Europe should understand that Malawi's prisons are very much more relaxed places, seemingly disorganisd. With 1500 prisoners in a building designed to hold 300 some apparent chaos is to be expected! Fortunately, there is no culture of violence.


Critical thinking and the African identity
By Leo Igwe,
 Published in Malawi's Sunday Times on 29 January 2011

 Nigerian, Leo Igwe, is the regional representative of IHEU. We edited an article of his that is relevant to cultural considerations of witchcraft which was published in the regular ASH Science & Critical Thinking column in Malawi's SundayTimes

If lack of critical thinking or inability to apply common sense to issues is what makes one an African, then I am not an African. I hereby renounce my African identity if it means that I should not exercise my critical intelligence or apply reason and science. 
If being African means I should suspend my thinking faculty and blindly accept whatever any person or prophet says or preaches, don’t count me as an African. I make this assertion because often blind faith, dogma and fetishism are identified with African mentality.
Whenever I apply logic, critical reasoning and science during debates, I am often accused of not thinking like an African. I am told that I think like a white man. As if critical thinking or the scientific outlook is for westerners alone or that it can only be exercised by people from a particular race.
Even in this 21st Century, reason and science are still perceived as western, not African values. How did we arrive at this mistaken idea? It is often portrayed as if the African does not reason and dare not reason or does not think or cannot think critically - thinking like an African means suspension of logic or common sense! Thinking like an African means not thinking at all – but thoughtlessly thinking in spiritual, occultic or magical ways.
Whenever I challenge or question the irrational and absurd claims of witchcraft, charms and other ritualistic and religious nonsense that dominate the mental space of Africans, I am often reminded that my mentality is western. Whenever somebody alleges that a position is western, though it may be reasonable or may have a superior argument, does it mean that it is unacceptable? Is that not unfortunate?
Whenever I expose the absurdity of witchcraft accusations or the persecution of alleged witches or wizards, many often urge me to set aside my ‘white man’s mentality’, as if critical thinking is for white people while mystical thinking is for blacks and Africans.
The white race and the West have recorded significant achievements in science and technology, and in rational and critical discourses. That does not make the values of science, reason and critical thinking western or white. These values constitute part of human heritage, which all human beings can lay claim to, exercise, access, express, celebrate, cultivate and nurture. The progress which the West has recorded as a result of their institutionalisation of reason and science is one which any society can realise. Africans should stop hiding behind this misrepresentation that reason and science are un-African western values. Africans should embrace critical mindedness and work to dispel the Dark Age and barbaric mentality that looms large on the continent.
Those maintaining that critical thinking is alien to African identity and mentality are doing the African race and civilization a great disservice. They are frustrating the African enlightenment, emancipation and emergence. 

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Could it be that our campaign for the correct application of the Witchcraft Law is making a difference. Two recent press reports would seem to indicate that it has.
Executive Secretary of ASH sent this congratulatory email to the Inspector General of Police:
I would like to thank the police for doing the right thing; arresting witch finders and those perpetuating violence in the name of witchcraft as these scanned copies show.
Hands up for the police for arresting the witch doctors in Dowa and prosecuting the Hondes in Mzimba. This is what is supposed to be happening.
Thank you Bwana Inspector General for this resolve.

We would encourage all Police officers to maintain this stance to help bring to an end the injustice against the vulnerable mainly elderly accused by their neighbours of witchcraft.

Thursday, February 17, 2011



There has been a disappointing response, especially from Malawians, to our petition to President Mutharika to release all 'witches' from prisons, this in spite of sending out more than a 1000 personally addresses emails.
Please sign the petiton and send the link to all your contacts. You can do that directly from the petition site or use your normal mail program with the following link:

Monday, February 14, 2011


When it bcame apparent that the Government of Malawi was determined not only to maintain the current discriminatory laws on homosexuality (relating to males only) but also to criminalise female same-sex relationships, ASH presented the following petition to the President which was ignored. The President has given his consent to the new law.

                 The Association for Secular Humanism
                      P.O. Box 2340                   Tel /Cell:              + 265  88 8853150
                     Lilongwe                                        email:       
7th December, 2010

His Excellency,
The State President of the Republic of Malawi,
Ngwazi Professor Bingu wa Mutharika
State House, Lilongwe

Your Excellency,
We, Secular Humanists put life on this earth and the well-being of our fellow man at the centre of our lives. We promote a free-thinking spirit of enquiry, rejecting all dogma.

Knowledge grows as a result of free enquiry. New knowledge influences societal attitudes and promotes change as it spreads. The rejection of knowledge as a result of pre-held dogmatic beliefs is to be decried. As Sir W. Drummond said:  He that will not reason is a bigot; he that cannot reason is a fool; he that dares not reason is a slave.

It is bigotry that influences debate on homosexuality in Malawi. We believe that most of our fellow men are well-able to reason for themselves. Those who have the ability to reason but dare not because of the fear of condemnation, by faith groups in particular are, indeed, slaves to organizations that historically have often attempted to halt the advance of knowledge.

It is true that most Malawians, often prompted by ignorance and fear, currently claim to be disgusted at the thought of same sex relationships. A more tolerant attitude can only be encouraged by dissemination of the facts that have been revealed by recent discoveries in the fields of genetics, inter-uterine foetal development and exploratory scans of the sentient brain. It is a responsibility of Government to promote scientific research and critical thinking. This may be contrary to the wishes of various faith groups but Government must provide balanced leadership.

Your Excellency, we believe that you are capable of assessing the evidence and will have no fear of publicly accepting the inevitable outcome by refusing to approve of Parliament’s move to criminalize same sex relationships between consenting female adults and will subsequently initiate moves to decriminalize same-sex relationships between consenting adult males.

Homosexuality is not a lifestyle choice. Research indicates that it is a natural state that comes about by a mixture of genetics and development in the womb. The Royal College of Psychiatrists (2007) stated: “It would appear that sexual orientation is biological in nature, determined by a complex interplay of genetic factors and the early uterine environment.” Sexual orientation is therefore not a choice. Professor M. King of the University College of London states: The conclusion reached by scientists who have investigated the origins and stability of sexual orientation is that it is a human characteristic that is formed early in life, and is resistant to change. Scientific evidence on the origins of homosexuality is considered relevant to theological and social debate because it undermines suggestions that sexual orientation is a choice.

It is obvious from this that homosexual man has no more control over his attraction for his own sex than heterosexuals for the opposite sex. Sexual attraction is one of the strongest ‘forces’ in nature. It is no more sensible to expect a homosexual to practice celibacy than for heterosexuals. To punish anyone for following their own nature is unjust.

Homosexuals, by virtue of sexual orientation, constitute an identifiable group. As such, they are entitled to the protection under Section 20 of the Constitution which prohibits discrimination “.. under any law..”  on the grounds of  “…  other status.” Therefore, we consider that the existing law is discriminatory as is the law currently awaiting your consent.

Same-sex relationships are ‘crimes’ without victims. It is our belief that the law should not criminalize an activity that does no harm. We ask, also, what conviction and imprisonment is expected to achieve. It CANNOT change a person’s natural sexual orientation. It does not protect society since homosexuals are not intent on persuading heterosexual persons to change their sexual orientation and adopt a homosexual lifestyle.

Homosexuals do not pose a danger to society. Government should not be a slave to religious dogmas. Sir, you will notice that many known homosexuals are very talented and productive members of society. The performing arts are particularly blessed with their talents. They live and work in tolerant and understanding societies. They cause no damage. For example, you will have seen Anderson Cooper on CNN who hosts his own current affairs programme. He is homosexual. Would you want to imprison him if he lived in Malawi? Sir Elton John’s music has brought pleasure to millions. His touching performance at the funeral of Lady Diana is still remembered by many. He is ‘gay’. Would you want to imprison him in Malawi? Certainly, not. Then why would we want to imprison our own brothers and sisters who, by an accident of birth or early development, are different from the majority? Why should we expect them to live a lie and hide their true personalities from family and friends?

We entreat you to reject bigotry, follow reason and reject the slavery of the mind. In this way, Sir, you will have no difficulty in resisting the criminalization of ‘lesbian’ acts and will, we hope, promote the repeal of the current cruel and discriminatory laws and not to consent to the current revision on lesbian acts in the Penal Code. Our laws should also be in conformity with global trends so that Malawi does not become a focus on unnecessary ridicule.

Your faithfully

George Thindwa
Executive Director
Association for Secular Humanism

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Malawi's Nation on Sunday carried a front page challenge from ASH's publicity savvy Executive Secretary, George Thindwa. K 200,000 (about $1400 - a large amount where the average income is less than a dollar a day) is the reward for any 'sorcerer' who manages to 'bewitch' George in a predetermined way.
Self-styled 'Doctor' Musafoke (translation -' Don't be weak') in typical cheating fashion dodged the issue by saying only relatives could bewitch a person when some disagreement or jealousy existed within the family.
Secular Humanism is now very much in people's view and offers a different outlook for the millions enslaved by predatory religions. Read the full article here .
In a seperate report in the Sunday Times, under the heading Rights Group bails out suspected witch Thindwa is featured bailing out the 'witch' Anderson, featured in an earlier blog below. Thindwa also mentioned the release of the three old women 'witches' whos e fines had been paid by Secular Humanists from America. When asked how his family reacted to his secularist and humanist philosophies, Thindwa replied: " Actually the three old ladies of Dowa slept at my house on their way home. My family chatted with them and felt very sad that we Malawians are being unreasonable in troubling old people. They felt some pride in what I did to pay the fines and have them released."


Science & Critical Thinking - the Secular Humanist View is our regular column in Malawi's Sunday Times newspaper. We will be posting weekly articles to this blog. Earlier columns will be posted in due course to the linked blogsite

13th February 2011
By Harold Williams
What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite.
Bertrand Russell
We are moulded as children by ‘authority’ – our parents, schoolteachers and religious leaders. Unquestioning obedience is probably the quickest way to develop, learn and establish our position in society. However, if our intellects are to develop we need to begin to question. Just as our bodies mature so should our minds – and that requires critical thinking - a scientific approach to the physical world and a questioning approach to ideas, beliefs and opinions. We need to develop Intellectual Autonomy and become Independent Thinkers.
Autonomous persons are in charge of their lives. They are not irrationally dependent on others and not controlled by infantile emotions. They have self-control. They are competent. … In forming beliefs, critical thinkers do not passively accept the beliefs of others. … They are not limited by the accepted way of doing things. They evaluate traditions and practices that others often accept unquestioningly. … They function from values they themselves have freely chosen. (Richard W. Paul & Linda Elder: Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Professional and Personal Life. ISBN 0-13064760-8)
The desire to conform, not to be seen as being different from the crowd, is very strong in the human psyche and difficult to overcome. Most people are Intellectual Conformists. In this state they may easily accept the status quo, unquestioningly submitting to dominant groups in society such as politicians, traditional and religious leaders, and captains of business. Thinking for oneself does not always go down well with these dominant groups which need the passivity of the masses to maintain control and to gain or retain power, wealth and influence.
Secular Humanists have generally gone through a period of critical thinking and honest self-evaluation. They often find that the generality of the public is disturbed by pronouncements that may challenge comfortable beliefs and habits. In this series we will challenge many of your cherished beliefs. We hope that you will understand the honest process that preceded the challenge. We hope that you, also, will discipline yourself and examine your beliefs with a critical and honest mind. Just a few suggestions for the exercise:
  • Do we REALLY need a Messiah to cure the problems of our nation? Or do we require good policies honestly and vigorously applied?
  • Is our President REALLY the ‘father of the nation’? Is that what we voted for?
  • How is it that many self-anointed Christian leaders live a rich and ostentatious family life at the expense of their ‘flock’ whilst espousing a doctrine that demands they leave their families and give up all worldly goods? Should we REALLY believe such hypocrites and show them honour?
  • If each religious group claims to follow the one true faith, how can we know which group is REALLY right?
Or are they all wrong?
Honestly, now!


..... and a vote for the opposition would be a vote for the devil.

Friday, February 11, 2011


For accompanying dossier of cases see list at
12th February, 2011
                                 URGENT AND CONFIDENTIAL

His Excellency,
The State President of the Republic of Malawi,
Ngwazi Professor Bingu wa Mutharika,
State House, Lilongwe.

Your Excellency,

Your Excellency, we report that there are many women and the elderly who are convicted and serving sentences in our prisons. Many are also on remand or bail answering cases on practicing witchcraft.

The problem of convicting women and the elderly arises because our police are incorrectly applying the law. According to the witchcraft Act, it is the ACCUSERS that are supposed to be charged and prosecuted. Unfortunately, our officers instead arrest the accused who are normally women and the elderly. They charge them with pretending witchcraft or Conduct likely to breach peace and leaving the accusers to go scot free. At the courts, the accusers who have committed an offence by accusing others of witchcraft are paraded as state witnesses against the accused.

As a result, many innocent women and the elderly are being convicted. Some are sentenced to long periods in prison. Even when the accused go and complain against witchcraft accusations, the police turn around and charge and prosecute them. Furthermore some chiefs continue to invite witch finders in their communities for witchcraft cleansing even though such calling is illegal. The chiefs are never prosecuted for encouraging such illegal exercises.  We hereby attach a full list depicting witchcraft victims who are in jail or are answering case in our courts. We also submit a dossier that covers stories of victims that led to their predicament, demonstrating how our police and the courts have been mishandling these people.

Your Excellency, we are appealing for your consideration so that our mothers and sisters who are in prison  and those on bail and remand on witchcraft offences could be released through your Presidential pardon and have their withdrawn. We make the appeal being mindful of your policy where you have occasionally called on Malawians to desist from this practice of accusing our elderly citizens as witches or of practicing witchcraft.

The Association has made these positive contributions to bring relief the victims that have suffered from witchcraft accusations and incorrect application of the law. In Jan 2011, we secured the release of 4 old ladies from Dowa district who were convicted of pretending witchcraft. We paid their fines, they were released and we delivered them to their villages. In Usisya, Nkhatabay, between November and Dec. 2010, a witch finder with authority from TA Mbwana terrorized the community where the main victims were women and the elderly. The calling of witch finders is illegal. In Jan. 2011, we received the complaint and with the help of the Inspector General, the witch hunt was stopped and the witch hunter was arrested. With our meager resources, we have a program of visiting all prisons across the country to cheer up prisoners on witchcraft to lift up their spirits.

Your Excellency, many of these victims are old, some have died in prison while others are sick. They cannot stand prison conditions. For example; James Mpinganjira died at Maula prison while on remand in 2010; Mr. Kalimake died at Maula prison in 2009. He was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment in 2007; F. Mkolokosa aged 70 years died at Chichiri prison in Nov. 2010 and C. Tchale aged 75 years died at Maula prison in Dec. 2010. Many other inmates who are sick include; L. Tamverankhani of Chichiri prison; Uka Ajabu at Mangochi; Namalinda Josephy at Dedza and Margaret Jackson is epileptic and suffers from frequent fits. Namakhalepo Kamphata at Maula prison is very old and unable to walk and very sick. The Central hospital has recommended home based care (home being Maula prison) for her.

Your Excellency, we appeal to you to please bring relief to these innocent Malawians. Please consider them for pardon. They should be released. We should not be convicting our citizens in the 20th Century because of witchcraft. We also appeal to you to remind our Police to apply the witchcraft law correctly. They should charge and prosecute the accusers without fear of favor.

We are confident that our appeal will meet your favourable consideration, your Excellency.

Yours faithfully

George Thindwa
Executive Director


We, African civil society organizations, condemn the recent actions of the Malawian Parliament and President Bingu wa Mutharika amending the Penal Code to expand criminal penalties to adult women who engage in consensual same sex relations. This amendment is in direct violation of Malawi’s legal obligations, undermines an effective response to HIV and is un-African.

The amendment clearly violates fundamental rights enshrined in Malawi’s Constitution.  Specifically, section 20(1) of the Constitution protects against discrimination “in any form”.  Furthermore, the Constitution guarantees that every person has the right to dignity, under article 19(1); freedom of association, under article 32; freedom of expression, under article 35; and the right to personal privacy, under article 21.   

The protection of these rights is further provided for under Malawi’s obligations under regional law. The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), ratified by Malawi,  guarantees non-discrimination, dignity and freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, liberty, expression, and association under articles 2, 5, 6, 9(2), and 10(1) respectively.  With particular application to women, the Protocol to the ACHPR on the Rights of Women in Africa, ratified by Malawi in 2005, acknowledges the importance of protecting African women’s rights to dignity, to the free development of her personality and security of person under articles 3 and 4. 

These rights are reinforced under Malawi’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Malawi has also ratified, protecting the right to non-discrimination; equality; liberty; privacy; and dignity.  The Human Rights Committee, tasked with interpreting the nature and extent of the rights enshrined in the ICCPR, held that laws criminalizing consensual relationships between same-sex adults violated the rights to privacy and non-discrimination under the ICCPR. 

In addition to violating Malawi’s fundamental legal obligations, this amendment will undermine Malawi’s efforts to address HIV among people engaging in same sex relations— a group the Malawian government has recognized as vulnerable to discrimination and critical to its efforts to effectively respond to the HIV epidemic. The National HIV/AIDS Policy states: “Government and partners shall put in place mechanisms to ensure that HIV/AIDS/STI prevention, treatment, care and support and impact mitigation services can be accessed by all without discrimination, including [persons engaged in same sex sexual relations].” The 2009 Malawi National HIV and AIDS Action Framework (NSF) end of term review stated: “Although the NSF singled out the youth as a vulnerable group to HIV infection, there are other HIV/AIDS high-risk target groups that require special attention. These include commercial sex workers, women and men in armed forces, truck drivers, men who have sex with fellow men, women who have sex with fellow women, intravenous drug users.” This is reinforced by leading medical institutions as well as UNAIDS, UNDP and the World Health Organisation who recommend engaging persons having same-sex relations as a critical component of an effective response to HIV.

The amendment to the Penal Code contravenes the most basic rights guaranteed under Malawi’s Constitution. Furthermore, criminalizing people engaging in same sex relations will create legal obstacles hindering the ability of governmental and non-governmental agencies to provide critical HIV services to this high risk group and increase the fear among the group of accessing the needed services. Finally, the amendment contravenes the basic values we hold as Africans—to treat all with ubuntu.  Therefore, we call on the Malawian Government to repeal this amendment.

Endorsed by:

1.    Swaziland Positive Living (SWAPOL), Swaziland
2.    AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA), Namibia
3.    Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, Malawi
4.    Centre for the Development of People, Malawi
5.    National Women's Lobby Group (NAWOLG, Malawi
6.    NSIDO, Malawi
7.    Association for Secular Humanism, Malawi
8.    Southern African Litigation Centre, South Africa
9.    Gay Kenya, Kenya
10.    Women working with Women (3W), Kenya
11.    SCARJoV, Luanda – Angola
12.    National Empowerment Network of PLHAs in Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya
13.    PEMA Kenya, P.O Box 41562,G.P.O MOMBASA, Kenya
14.    SISAL Madagascar, Antananarivo, Madagascar
15.    Global Research and Advocacy Group (GRAG), SENEGAL
16.    Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS, Botswana
17.    SECTION27, INCORPORATING THE AIDS LAW PROJECT, Johannesburg, South Africa
18.    Présidente de Protection Enfants Sida(P.E.S), REPUBLIQUE DEMOCRATIQUE DU CONGO
19.    Alternatives- Cameroun, Cameroon
20.    Positive Vibes, Namibia
21.    Stay Alive Support Group, Mombasa, Kenya
22.    Persons Marginalized and Aggrieved Kenya (PEMA Kenya), Kenya
23.    AIDS Law Unit of the Legal Assistance Centre, Namibia
24.    Artists For Recognition and Acceptance (AFRA-Kenya), Nairobi, Kenya
25.    Youth Outreach on Rights and Development (YORD), Namibia
26.    Ravane+  (Network Of People Living With HIV/Aids in the Indian Ocean Region ), République de Maurice
27.    The Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law-Uganda
28.    Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum-Uganda
29.    NYAWEK coalition of LGBTI, Western Kenya
30.    Out-Right Namibia (ORN), Namibia
32.    Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, Washington, USA
33.    EMPOWER  INDIA - Professional Civil Society Organisation, INDIA
34.    Positive Lives India (PLI+), India
35.    Tupilak (Nordic Rainbow Cultural Workers), Sweden
36.    ILGCN (International Lesbian & Gay Culture Network) Information Secretariat-Stockholm, Sweden
37.    International secretary of the Nordic Rainbow Humanists, Sweden
38.    Kåre Moen, Institute of Health and Society, University of Oslo
39.    International Commission of Jurists, Switzerland
40.    KAIPPG International, USA
41.    ActALIVE Arts Coalition, USA
42.    Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition, Kingston, Jamaica