Francis Mbewe, a known village elder, is accused of killing his 31-year-old nephew, Ernest Zulu, who died in bizarre circumstances in Sinda District of Eastern Province.
According to Simon Mwale, a family member, Zulu grew up in good health but suddenly developed epilepsy, a stigmatised neurological disorder locally known as “khunyu”.
He narrated that when he sought help from local traditional healers and witchdoctors, he was advised that a family member had bewitched him, and further prophesied that the person who had caused his sickness would show up at his house the next day, which came to pass.
“Then suddenly, he (Zulu) suffered a severe headache last Saturday, and when he was taken to the hospital, he was pronounced dead on arrival. But to our surprise, after depositing the body in the mortuary, it remained warm until the following day and was still bleeding, whilst the heart was not functioning. This also shocked the hospital staff at Sinda Zonal Health Centre who hesitated to certify the death as the body temperature remained at 37 degrees Celsius,” Mwale narrated.
He explained that after Zulu died, Mbewe, the accused wizard, fled the village and snubbed the funeral of his nephew, despite living in the same village and in a nearby house.
“We accepted the development, but we got surprised to see that the elderly uncle could not come where people had gathered for the funeral and then later fled to Chimunsi Village until we asked those people in that village to chase him so that he attends the burial of his nephew,” said Mwale.
“It’s like he left word with some people that Ernest had not died, which was why his body remained warm, and that we should not bury his body. So when we were preparing for burial, again his uncle left for another village, and only came back on Monday.”
Another witnesses narrated that it was on Monday that the mourning villagers got agitated and pounced on Mbewe who was spotted waving and mocking the funeral procession.
“When the people were taking the body for burial, Mbewe was seen laughing and waving at the coffin. That is when the youths stormed his house, broke in and fished him out before dragging him along to the graveyard. And on the way to the graveyard, they beat him up with sticks and other objects while others stoned him,” the witness narrated.
He narrated that at the graveyard, a Catholic priest had a tough time calming the angry mob that wanted to slay the accused wizard, as they continued to beat him up.
“The youths tied him to a tree with fibre and were ready to kill him. It took the priest to beg them to first finish the funeral procession before the accused’s case could be dealt with. That is what happened, until someone called Sinda Police to come and rescue the man,” narrated the witnesses.
In an interview, Sinda District Commissioner Paradious Sakala, who confirmed the development, condemned the act and urged people to avoid taking the law in their own hands.
“Truly, the situation was like that and the man is under pressure such that leaving him there, they can kill him so the police got him for safety and, currently, he is at the police for safety. They had tied him…at the graveyard, aiming to bury him too in the same grave they were burying the alleged victim. They broke his house and scattered some of his belongings,” narrated Sakala.
“It’s not correct to take the law in their own hands because Zambia has a Constitution, has laws for each and every matter that happens. If communities have traditional conflicts, why can’t they engage the traditional leaders to resolve them?”