Negotiation of Legitimacy of Witch-Finders in Lusaka

Open access


The article aims at legal and illegal activities of Lusaka´s traditional healers within the system of traditional medicine which is primarily anchored in the constitution of traditional healers´ associations. It primarily focuses on witch-finders, whose social status, professional position and authority is constantly negotiated within the formal and informal sector of traditional medicine. Since the late 1990s, the quest for services of traditional healers specialised in witch-finding has gained popularity, particularly amongst the impoverished Lusaka compound-dwellers. Due to the increasing public violence against those denoted as witches, the activities of witch-finders were officially banned by the Witchcraft Act in 1995 and this profession is not officially recognised by the Constitution of Traditional Health Practitioners Association of Zambia (THAPAZ). In spite of the prohibition, there remain many witch-finders in Lusaka who practise witch-finding secretly, in order not to commit an offence they do not openly denounce the name of an alleged witch. Their authority and credibility is threatened by many “official” as well as “unofficial” competitors in the city and it must be constantly reaffirmed and negotiated by introducing innovations. The ability to keep clients and to gain a good reputation thus depends on the originality of their diagnostic and therapeutic procedures. At the same time witch-finders must counter diverse obstacles and uncertainties resulting from their illegal status within the sector of traditional medicine. The author analyses tactics that Lusaka´s witch-finders have developed and employed to negotiate their social status, credibility and authority visà-vis the competition from the “official” traditional healers.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • CHABAL P. (2009): Africa. The Politics of Suffering and Smiling. South Africa: University of KwaZulu Natal Press.

  • COMAROFF J. – COMAROFF J. (1993): Introduction. In: Comaroff J. – Comaroff J. (eds.) Modernity and Its Malcontents. Ritual and Power in the Postcolonial Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1 ̵ 25.

  • DILLON-MALONE C. (1988): “Mutumwa Nchimi Healers and Wizardry Beliefs in Zambia”. Social Science and Medicine 26 No 11 1159 ̵ 1172.

  • FERGUSON J. (1999): Global Disconnect. Abjection and the Aftermath of Modernism. Unpublished paper.

  • FRANKEBERG R. (1969): “Man Society and Health: Towards the Definition of the Role of Sociology in the Development of Zambian Medicine”. African Social Research 8 573 ̵ 587.

  • FRANKEBERG R. – LEESON J. (1977): “The Patients of Traditional Doctors in Lusaka”. African Social Research 23 217 ̵ 234.

  • HANSEN T. K. (2008): The Informalisation of Lusaka’s Economy: Regime Change Ultra Modern Markets and Street Vending 1972 ̵ 2004. In: Gewald J. B. – Hinefelaar M. – Macola G. (eds.) One Zambia Many Histories. Leiden: Brill.

  • JULES-ROSETTE B. (1981): Symbols of Change. Urban Transition in Urban Community. London: Ablex.

  • LAST M. – CHAVUNDUKA G. L. (1986): The Professionalization of African Medicine. Manchester: Manchester University Press and International African Institute.

  • LÉVI-STRAUSS C. (1966): The Savage Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • MARWICK M. G. (1965): Sorcery in its Social Setting: A Study of the Northern Rhodesian Chewa. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

  • MILDNEROVÁ K. (2015): From Where Does the Bad Wind Blow? Spiritual Healing and Witchcraft in Lusaka. Berlin: Lit Verlag.

  • MULENGA L. CH. (2003): Urban Slums Report: The Case of Zambia Lusaka. In: Understanding Slums: Case Studies for the Global Report 2003. Lusaka.

  • MULENGA S. – CAMPENHOUT B. van (2003): Decomposing Poverty Change in Zambia. Growth Inequality and Population Dynamics. African Development Review 20 No. 2 284-303.

  • MUUKA N. G. (1997): “Too Rich to Be Poor? A Glimpse of the Poverty Situation in Zambia in the 1990s.” Scandinavian Journal of Development Alternatives and Are studies 16 No. 1 139 ̵ 156.

  • SUGISHITA K. (2009): “Traditional Medicine Biomedicine and Christianity in Modern Zambia”. In: Africa. International African Institute 79 No. 3 435-454.

  • Central Statistical Office. 2009. Living Conditions Poverty in Zambia 1991 – 2006. Lusaka: CSO.

  • Central Statistical Office. 1994. The Social Dimensions of Adjustment Priority Survey I. Lusaka: CSO.

  • International Labour Office. 2008. Investigation Forced Labour and Trafficking in Zambia. Lusaka: International Labour Office.

  • International Labour Office. 2014. Labour Force Survey data. Lusaka: International Labour Office.

  • Republic of Zambia. 1995. Witchcraft Act. In: Penal Code Chapter 90. Lusaka: Government Printers.

  • Traditional Health Practitioners Association of Zambia. 2001. Constitution. Code of ethics. Policy Guidelines. Lusaka: THAPAZ.

  • United Nations Development Programme. 2010. Human Development Report 2010. New York: UNDP.

  • World Health Organisation. 2001. Legal status of traditional medicine and complementary/alternative medicine. A worldwide review. Geneva: WHO.

Journal information
All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 267 128 3
PDF Downloads 259 187 9