‘Suspected vampire killed by mob”. This is a real headline, in a real newspaper. Malawi’s Nyasa Times ran the story this week, and the incident is all the more remarkable because it is the eighth alleged “bloodsucker” to be killed in Malawi since mid-September.
So is the vampire apocalypse finally here?
Not quite. As the local police chief explained, the victim’s vampire credentials did not exactly check out. “The deceased, Alufeso Galangala, was caught around 1am at Chiyendausiku just loitering and after questioning, the mob resorted to violence after the suspect failed to give them convincing information as to why he was just loitering during those old hours,” said Aggrey Bondo of Balaka police station.
The mobs that killed Galangala and others were apparently convinced their victims were drinking human blood as part of some kind of magic ritual.
In a statement, Malawi’s human rights commission condemned the attacks: “Similar to recent attacks on persons with albinism, the violence and brutal killings of persons suspected to be bloodsuckers in Mulanje are being influenced by cultural beliefs, superstition and myths.
“This form of violence has sadly resulted in merciless killings of innocent people in Mulanje and surrounding districts. On the one hand, it has been reported that some people have allegedly been killed mysteriously after their blood had been sucked, and on the other hand, it has been reported that some people have also been killed and molested for being suspected of being bloodsuckers,” said the statement. “In both cases, the commission considers those killed and molested as innocent people and entitled to the full protection of the law.”
Malawi’s President Peter Mutharika also got involved, urging people not to take matters into their own hands. “If people are using witchcraft to suck people’s blood, I will deal with them and I ask them to stop doing that with immediate effect,” he said.
In the four districts affected by the so-called “vampirism” epidemic, the security situation has become so unstable that the United Nations has withdrawn staff, worried for their safety.
“These districts have severely been affected by the ongoing stories of bloodsucking and possible existence of vampires,” the UN department of safety and security said in a report.
UN Dispatch’s Joanne Lu observed: “The current spate of violence is not without political undertones as well. The ruling Democratic Progressive Party has accused the Malawi Congress Party of being behind the rumours and violence. At the same time, politically motivated violence is erupting in other nearby districts ahead of local elections.
“However, it’s the cultural underpinnings — the superstitions, myths and cultural belief — that are more worrying to human rights advocates, because those are more deeply ingrained into poor, undereducated rural societies than political alliances.
“The attacks are alarmingly reminiscent of a sharp increase over the last couple years of attacks on people with albinism, whose bones and body parts are believed to bring good luck in witchcraft rituals.”
This is not the first time a vampire scare has sparked vigilante violence in Malawi.
In 2002, one man was killed and three Catholic priests were assaulted following a rumour that Malawi’s government was collaborating with vampires and international aid agencies to collect human blood.