African "witch daughters" get new homes

8/9/2011

7:00 A.M. EDT August 9, 2011 | MASSINGA, Mozambique (UMNS)

They have traveled a long way and been through many trials but on a Sunday in June, 24 “witch daughters” got the keys to a safe, secure shelter to call home.

United Methodist Bishop Joaquina Nhanala and other church leaders celebrated with the widows as three houses built with funds from the U.S. Missouri Annual (regional) Conference were dedicated and opened.

The women, abandoned and accused of witchcraft by their families, have been cared for in the Hanhane Shelter by the church in Mozambique for several years. Like many people in the region, they have been living in reed and thatch huts that offered little protection from the weather or thieves.

At one point in 2008, a thief stole 32 blankets and most of their food. News of the theft was the catalyst for building permanent shelters for the women.

Photo above: United Methodist Bishop Joaquina Nhanala (center) celebrates the completion of three permanent shelters with widows at the Hanhane Shelter. A UMNS photo by Naftal Massela

Each of the new houses consists of a living room, four bedrooms and a small veranda.

During the dedication, the widows held plates of salt and kerosene lamps to symbolize the world and the light of Jesus in the Gospel. They also carried brooms to show they would clean and care for the homes.

In her sermon, taken from 1 Samuel, Bishop Nhanala emphasized that God never forsakes God’s people. “He keeps an eye over His creation and is always ready to rescue those who are rejected,” she said.

From outcast to beloved

For these outcasts known as “witch daughters,” rejection had become a way of life.

“The main sin I have committed in life is the fact of being born a woman,” said Albertina Mica Massingue, a widow and mother of six children, and the newest resident of the Hanhane shelter.

Photo below: Twenty-five elderly women moved out of thatch huts and into the women’s shelter. A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose

“These accusations do not have any kind of scientific or theological support,” said Victoria Chifeche, executive secretary of the United Methodist Women in Massinga, who started caring for the women in 1982.

The practice of sending away elderly women, especially widows, has become common among families in Massinga, she explained. Most of the victims are accused by relatives – even their children – of practicing witchcraft.

Besides the suffering brought by the loss of their husbands, the women face an uncertain future and have lost everything they spent their lifetimes building, Chifeche said.

Juaneta Tomo Comé, who is older than 90, was the first woman the church took in after her children and the children of her husband’s second wife blamed her for his death.

“It all started when my husband passed away and his children from the other mother began to accuse me of having killed my own husband. The worst part of it is that they had a support from my own children,” said Comé.

The women at the shelter are between the ages of 50 and 95.

New family

“I thank God for bringing me into the hands of The United Methodist Church,” Massingue said. “I have a family which I did not have before.”

The women share their experiences and are living as a family. Their daily activities include agriculture and animal husbandry, and they are all committed to work for their own benefit.

United Methodist Volunteers in Mission are frequent visitors to the shelter. Donations from the teams provide food and animals to raise.

The church in Mozambique has also taken on the task of teaching the community to respect and care for its elderly.

“The education is meant to discourage (accusing women of witchcraft) and share their love with their parents as Christ loved the world though we are all sinners,” Chifeche said. “This is a serious battle and as the church we need to step up and educate the community.”

Failure to do that may result in one day also experiencing the treatment these women have suffered, she added.

Photo above: Permanent shelters will provide protection and comfort for 25 widows. A UMNS Photo by Naftal Massela.

“By God’s love today we have shelter, food, clothes, love, joy and above all, hope brought by The United Methodist Church in the mighty name of Jesus Christ,” Massingue said.

The Missouri Conference has provided curtains for the rooms and is planning to build a dining/fellowship shelter. It also is collecting funds to buy new linens and blankets.

*Massela is communications and Volunteers in Mission coordinator for The United Methodist Mozambique South Annual Conference.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.