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Strong Muti

by Luke Mason, illustration by Warren Rayesdorf / 01.06.2010

Last week I met a man who had just buried his mother. The eldest child in a family of four, unemployed, desolate, deeply wounded. His mother had been abducted towards the end of last year. Accounts of the incident differ, but from what I heard, she had had her throat cut, her breasts, womb and clitoris remove, her eyes, and tongue taken. The man’s younger brother had lost his mind after finding her dismembered corpse. Community members seemed to be in little doubt that the woman had been murdered by human body-part hunters working in the muti trade. Her fate reduced to a frightened whisper and a warning to be vigilant. I heard that her husband, the man’s stepfather, had been paid R30 000 to arrange the murder. I heard that the stepfather was a free man in the community.

The son was in his late twenties, coloured, Zulu speaking. His mother had been the sole breadwinner of his family and he was now living in the home of a pastor. When asked about his mother, his lips and cheeks tightened in a smile-like grimace, his eyelids quivered. He could not talk about the incident. He explained how he had just put his mother to rest, how it was very difficult for him to unearth his memories of the event. He wanted to know if the pain he would have to face in recalling these thoughts would help him pay his little sister’s school-fees, or whether it would help support his family. He asked if there was any money in it for him. I have never seen such pain in a man’s eyes. It was obvious that it was too big for him to face, that the torrent of sorrow it would release would take with it the last light of his being. I could hardly breathe in his presence.

It is said that muti containing human body parts is more powerful than that without. For these macabre ingredients to be most effective they must be imbued with the will to live of those from whom they are harvested. The harder one fights for their life, the more potent their flesh in death. Children’s body-parts are also desirable: a young life has used up little of its luck and innocence in this world. People use strong muti to ensure success in business, to bring back love and for fertility. They use strong muti when desperation pits one life against another in the basest sense, when someone else’s suffering means nothing in comparison with one’s own.

Human body-part trafficking is a lucrative business in this region of Southern Africa and instances of these so-called muti-murders are not uncommon in our country. For hard facts about this phenomenon you can read an official report by the Mozambique Human Rights League here.

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