“It is not forbidden to profess satanism”

Children turn into baboons, strangers into snakes – the fear of Satanism is spreading in Zimbabwe. In dem wirtschaftlich am Boden liegenden Land droht eine Verfolgungswelle

One should not get the idea that superstition is only a matter of lack of education. The roughly 12 million Zimbabweans are perhaps the most educated nation in Africa, with the continent’s highest literacy rate at 92 percent and a functioning higher education system. At the same time, Zimbabwe currently has a Satanism problem.

In the Sud African country, fear of Satanism has spread in recent months. After riots broke out at several schools, Education Department set up commission to investigate Satanism trap.

The country’s largest daily newspaper, the Zimbabwe Herald, complains that the national media has been flooded with reports about Satanists in recent months. Sometimes devilish practices are to blame when there are a conspicuous number of traffic accidents, sometimes when people disappear, fall ill or have accidents. The source of the fire seems to be the schools of all places. For example, parents suspect teachers of turning children into baboons, rabbits or vampires. Also, when a schoolgirl cut her neck at night and her roommates woke up in blood-drenched sheets, this was interpreted as an indication of satanic sorcery. Another example is a stranger who turned into a snake and entered a schoolboy through his mouth while he was tying his shoes.

Other media also report of angry parents storming schools because some teachers belong to Christian churches that are associated with Satanism (for example, here or here. Particularly scandalous is the case of a girl who reports that she was kidnapped and forced to bathe in blood and eat human flesh.

Most of the suspects are "innocent souls"

The Herald is owned by the government and therefore should also reflect its order. The newspaper’s handling of the ie is contradictory. On the one hand, it wants to de-escalate: It notes that most of the defendants identify themselves as "innocent souls" warns of a wave of persecution and reminds readers that it is a crime to suspect innocent people of witchcraft. On the other hand, the Herald does not question the belief in Satanism. On the contrary, he threatens with the punishment of the law anyone who, with the help of supernatural powers, causes harm to others.

But as long as this does not happen, everyone has the right to profess Satanism, the newspaper emphasizes. The free choice of religion is part of the country’s post-colonial identity, which is reflected in an unusually colorful church landscape: In the country of 12 million inhabitants, there are Roman and Greek Orthodox, Calvinist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Anglican, Coptic, Rastafarian and many other Christian churches. At the same time, Christian practices have merged with Shona and Ndebele spirit beliefs, with at least 20 percent of Zimbabweans attending syncretic services. Spiritual life is vital, new sects and churches are emerging, there are always prophets. A little bit as if Christianity was young again.

"We are free from God and can do bad things. Of us there are 10.000."

Consequently, if the Herald writes about Satanism, it will end up with God sooner or later: True Christians should know that the devil cannot be defeated physically. Only God can win the fight against him, and the only thing that helps is to pray. The most apt explanation of the phenomenon is probably John 8, verse 44, the newspaper advises – and quotes the not at all de-escalating biblical passage:

You have the devil for a father, and according to your father’s pleasure you will do. He is a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth; for truth is not in him. When he speaks lies, he speaks from his own; for he is a Lugner and the father of lies.

Unthinkable that a government paper in the enlightened West would proclaim in such a way. Surprisingly, other problems are quite comparable. While some people in Germany are wondering how to deal with radical Islamists within the framework of tolerant religious and asylum legislation, in a prison in the capital Harare they do not know what to do with three arrested foreigners. The fugitives from Rwanda and the Congo openly profess Satanism, demand that they be allowed to practice their religion freely, and on top of that they offer to recruit followers in prison.

Officially, the hands of the authorities are tied. Belief is not a crime as long as the Satanists do no harm. However, a journalist’s appointment at the prison also gives the impression that the accused were forced to confess to a stereotype, much like the witches in the 17. Century:

"I made a contract with the devil", known of the Congolese "and that’s why I can’t get out of it. Satanism means we are free from God and can do bad things without feeling guilty. From us there are 10.000 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo." And further: "Once you become a Satanist, you will not die, you will be almost like a ghost. We are also involved in sacrificial rituals and another condition is that one becomes homosexual."

At the very least, this chain of cliches – sins without shame, immortality, sacrificial rituals, sexual deviance – should startle anyone who has studied the German witch trials. When confessions are so unambiguous, they were often preceded by erpreng. The magical suspicion of the crime corresponds exactly to what witches have been accused of for centuries: Someone makes a pact with the devil to do evil to someone else. Witches by cohabitation with the devil, Satanists by rituals.

Witch and Satanist persecution as a symptom of deep crises

The European witch hunts of the 17. The phenomenon of witchcraft in the early twentieth century is relatively well researched. In the meantime, the Catholic Church is no longer considered to be the cause of the persecution waves. Instead, they are seen as a global phenomenon occurring in all cultures – as a kind of paranormal search for sundenbocken. Witch hunts can occur when a society in which magical thought patterns are prevalent is in deep crisis.

This is how it was in Germany in the early 17. Century, the high point of the witch pursuit. The climate had worsened in the previous century, there were crop failures, famines, famine, plague waves, seething conflicts over religion and territory (which ultimately resulted in the 30-year war).

Things could have gone better in Zimbabwe. After the liberation from Great Britain in 1980, the country had initially developed excellently: Life expectancy rose to 64 years, and the teacher’s son Robert Mugabe built the best school system in Africa. In the 90s came the economic crisis, the debt, the IMF, HIV, land reform, sanctions ..

Whether it was because of the IMF, whose austerity plans dismantled the health care system just as the AIDS epidemic broke out, or because of Mugabe’s pigheaded, autocratic and kleptocratic policies, by 2000, when the rift between the government and the IMF occurred, life expectancy had fallen to 36 years. GDP shrank year after year after year, while inflation rose and rose until it became hyperinflation. Prices at times doubled in a day and a half in 2009. The country landed at the bottom of the Happy Planet Index several times. Since the Zimbabwean dollar was abolished in 2009 and replaced by dollars, euros or the Sud African rand, things have, according to the IMF, at least been looking up again.

It is difficult to determine whether Zimbabweans in their desolate situation are merely looking for scapegoats for a misery they can neither change nor explain, or whether they actually dare to try to improve their situation through black magic.