I once was friends with a man known to practise witchcraft. This was not at some remote rural village but in my vibrant township.
Let Stina be the wizard’s name. For most, proof of Stina’s wizardry was as public as proceedings of a live event on TV. For starters, though he had no paper qualifications other than a primary school certificate, he ran a successful brick making business. Secondly at the local beer garden, he did not sit with other men enjoying traditional brew but stuck out alone sipping larger. Thirdly, his yard, house and workplace were always clean and tidy. If anyone still doubted the accusation, a fourth misdemeanour sealed Stina’s fate.
Two years after his wife had passed away, he still had not remarried.
‘Is that man,’ a prominent lady in the township whispered to me, ‘a dove that never remarries even after its partner dies?’ The two of us were chatting outside the hall after a residents’ association meeting.
‘What do you mean?’ I asked.
‘He can afford two or three wives yet he persists being a widower. We all know why.’
‘Yes, he’s scared the new wife will spill the beans.’
I frowned. ‘What beans?’
‘Aah you,’ she wagged a finger, ‘you mean you don’t know?’
She glanced around to make sure no one was eavesdropping. ‘Who do you think does all that back breaking work that makes him rich?’
‘His workers,’ I said.
‘Surely you don’t believe that? The truth is the man keeps tokoloshes.’
‘Come on, you, a respectable church woman! You don’t believe that?’
‘Don’t try to be a white man. These things exist. At night, the dwarf-like creatures with supernatural powers emerge from the many bedrooms at his house and slave all night. Some of the tokoloshes fly to builders and bewitch them so that they only buy bricks from their master. Don’t play with that man. He may be soft spoken, kind and all that but is cunning and evil.’
‘But I often seen him supervising his workers,’ I said. ‘What’s more, one of Stina’s customer’s tells me his bricks are good quality.’
She grimaced and waved a hand of dismissal. ‘What quality in just mud and cement? Get it from me; tokoloshes are the bedrock of his inexplicable success. His first wife – may her soul rest in peace – had come to accept the situation and thought it worth the high standard of living she enjoyed. A new wife would expose him. That’s why he hasn’t remarried.’
‘I don’t think so,’ I said. ‘The thing is…’
‘Maybe you are hoping that he lends you some of his tokoloshes? This would accelerate the recovery of your shop.’ She raised an eyebrow.
I resented her implication. Since I had started running our family grocery store, it had improved but not to the heydays when my uncle was in charge. I bid her farewell and left.
In time, because he was a fellow businessman, I got to know Stina well. From the many discussions we had and observing how he operated, I understood why he was successful.
For years, Stina had been a supervisor at a cement brick making company. When the company owners decided to relocate Stina bought some of the company’s equipment and started his own business at his house.
An intelligent man, Stina understood that ‘saving’ costs by reducing the percentage of cement in the mix compromised quality. He maintained the old company recipe. Further, he employed three workers he knew to be honest and hard working.
In a simplified form, Stina observed good business practices. He coached his business partner who was also his wife and she understood. Several serious small-scale builders bought Stina’s bricks and paid in cash. A simple man with simple tastes, Stina’s business grew.
After his wife passed away, numerous women fell for him like flies falling into a bowl of milk. Stina did go out with two of his admirers but it didn’t work out.
‘The man is stingy,’ the first girlfriend complained to a friend. ‘You would think he is saving to buy a train engine! I suggested we fly to Victoria Falls for a weekend but he said it was too expensive.’
‘You won’t believe this,’ the second girlfriend moaned, ‘he wants me to cook for his workers! What’s the point of having money if you still have to work hard?’
Both women left bitter, accusing him of being impossible to live with. Their departures fuelled the rumour that he was a wizard.
‘He fears that the women will unearth and then expose his tokoloshes,’ people whispered.
So much about Stina, can we dear reader turn on to something topical – miracles in church?
In Sub-Saharan Africa the past two decades have witnessed an upsurge of prophets who claim to perform miracles. Recently the most publicized of these prophets was Alph Lukau of Alleluia Ministries. In front of a packed congregation and video cameras, he raised a dead man lying in a coffin. Eyes and mouth wide open, the man walked out of the coffin, sat down and devoured food. Video footage shows congregants jumping up and down and ululating. They believed a miracle had been performed.
How are these prophets able to con so many people?
Bible scholar Kenneth Mtata explains that the prophets: ‘have managed to tap into African Traditional Religion where the understanding among Africans is that for someone to succeed there must be some supernatural influence from outside.’
Is that so? Could this be part of the explanation why my friend Stina was accused of witchcraft? Familiarity breeds contempt. Those around him could not accept that a person they knew well could be a success?
Perhaps a related reason for attributing success to the supernatural is laziness. Admitting that Stina was hard working would have reflected badly on the accusers. The belief in witchcraft comforts those who are not doing well. In the rural areas, if a family works hard in the fields and enjoys bumper harvests, it exposes lazy families. The lazy then hit back by accusing the prosperous of witchcraft.
If a retail outlet attracts many customers, it’s not because of good service and reasonable prices. It’s witchcraft. If a student consistently gets good grades, it’s witchcraft. If a girl is beautiful, envious ones accuse her of witchcraft. If….the list goes on and on.
Come on sons and daughters of Africa, away with this resurrected version of witchcraft we call miracles. It’s time we respected doers, not talkers. Only then, the Stinas of our world will flourish and lift high our continent.