It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself. ~ Thomas Jefferson


C himunthu Banda, Hetherwick Ntaba, Vuwa Kaunda - government's spokesmen muddying human rights with the gay issue

Sunday, April 24, 2011


By Harold Williams, Vice Chairman, ASH
ASH runs on the fumes from the oxidation of worthless copper coins. That is to say that we have no funds but do what we can with what little we have. We have made an approach to a foreign embassy for funding so that we can run seminars based on the showing of the 60 minute BBC film “The making of me” – documenting gay actor John Barryman’s journey to find out why he is gay. Our approach has yet to be formalised – but we live in hope.
Over the years, both prior to my joining the humanist movement and since, a number of my op-ed articles on the issues have been published in the local press. The arguments that we have to make do not change but neither do the arguments made against decriminalising homosexual acts viz. religion, culture, unnatural act, pro-creation. To break down such prejudicial responses may take almost forever!
I am convinced that most of my fellow Malawians when presented with the facts in an understandable manner and in an environment conducive to reflective thought who may have never knowingly met a gay person would be responsive to a film where such a personable character as John Barryman visually and candidly presents a balanced picture of the situation that LGBT people find themselves in. The film, with about nine identifiable segments, lends itself to natural breaks for discussion on the preceding section. We will target media, legislators, police, clergy and civil society in the hope that we may recruit sympathy to our cause of some of these influential opinion formers.
Malawi relies to a very large extent on aid inflows mainly from Western nations. The main donor nations understand that for a country such as Malawi to develop it is necessary that the basic concepts of good governance and respect for human rights, in accordance with Malawi’s rights-based Constitution, should be strengthened. Concerns from within Malawi on the deteriorating situation have been expressed by civil society organisations, the very strong churches, the Malawi Law Society, media bodies, academia, the Malawi Human Rights Commission (a constitutional independent body) and most callers to current affairs programmes on radio. In the face of government and presidential intransigency, threats of state instigated violence, abuse of police powers, vituperative personal attacks on state controlled radio and TV (there are no private TV stations) and statements made by Government spokespersons, dissatisfaction is growing.
Into this universal mix comes the LGBT issue. Led by the Royal Norwegian Government which has cut back aid, widespread criticism by the donor nations has been made of Malawi’s stance on the continuing criminalisation of homosexual acts including the recent criminalisation (in the name of gender equality!) of the addition of Lesbian sex. As far as ASH is concerned this intercession, whilst well motivated, sets back the fight for ‘gay’ rights in Malawi.
The LGBT issue is only a minor part of the overall governance/rights problem yet it is an issue where the majority of the population sympathises with the Government’s stance. And Government is using this is their main and, perhaps, only effective weapon in their arsenal to obscure the general issue.
A recent news item under the heading “Govt accuses activists of milking donors” reports that three very senior Government officials have publicly accused human rights activists of ‘gold digging’ to obtain funding to promote ‘un-Malawian practices like same-sex relationships.’  Hetherwick Ntaba, the official Government spokesperson, even went as far as to liken ‘ the sourcing of funds from the Norwegian Embassy for gay rights fights to getting money from Al Qaeda terrorist movement.’ The usual ‘stop-debate’ favourites of ‘.. the country’s culture and religious beliefs’ were brought into play. He went on to say that it is wrong to solicit funding from any government for purposes of promoting human rights adding that ‘.. gay rights should not be tolerated.’ NO DEBATE!
And now the Speaker of the National Assembly, Henry Chimunthu Banda, has criticised donor aid conditions to poor countries saying that conditions often negatively affect development. As a general statement it could be the basis for reasonable debate. However, the donors are, in the main, reflecting the sentiments of the Malawi public. He cited the tendency of the donors to single out ‘ .. one isolated incident as the determining factor for the whole aid package.’ Yet it is the Speaker who singled out the example of the reaction of the donor community to Malawi’s homosexuality law. This is dishonest of the Speaker. He is playing to the gallery, fishing for public sympathy, yet the representatives in Malawi of the main donor nations signed a joint communiqué which we posted to an earlier blog clearly spelling out the multiple causes for concern.
The biggest opponents of ‘gay’ rights remain the churches. By putting their reactions on a clearly dogmatic basis rather than on the secular principles of our Constitution, they are unwittingly weakening their general position on the other human rights issues on which they have been very critical of Government and the President.
The Malawi Council of Churches has just taken out a full page advertisement in the local press headed “Stand on Homosexuality” in which all of the usual Christian arguments are stated. The statement is far too long for us to reproduce here. Nevertheless, we note a recent argument that African government’s and churches are now using to bolster their stand viz. that the United Nations Declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity was rejected because only a few countries supported it. This is an invalid proof from numbers. What the churches fail to reveal is the identity of the opposing nations – nations which in the main have histories of repression of human rights and with whom we would generally not wish to be identified.
We at ASH will continue in our efforts to bring sanity to the debate. We are not concerned at Government’s attempts to vilify those who uphold ‘gay’ or any other rights. Should we fail to obtain funding from donor agencies in Malawi, we hope that our colleagues in the Humanist movement will be able to assist us in identifying a source of funds for a campaign that does not meet with much public sympathy in Malawi. We will keep you informed.

Monday, April 18, 2011


It may seem strange that an organisation such as ASH which does not accept the reality of witchcraft should have proposed to the special law commission on the reform of the law relating to witchcraft  that the existing law inherited from the British administration should remain in force without major changes. Recent events have justified this approach.
The law is quite clear – it is unlawful to accuse anyone of being a witch. There are punishments laid down in the law for transgressors. It is unlawful for any person to make any claim to being a witch or having the powers of a witch. Consequently, there is no remedy in law for people who believe that they have been bewitched. Unfortunately, many police officers and many magistrates who are themselves firm believers in witchcraft have misrepresented or misapplied the law with those accused being charged with ‘Pretending to be a witch’ and the accusers going free. This is generally based on accusations made especially by children whose heads have been filled with nonsense by their elders that the ‘witch’ has been taking them on magic ‘planes or has been taking them at night to graveyards to feast on human flesh.
Such was the case with the Mzembe’s which, late in 2010, came to the attention of ASH. ASH’s Executive Secretary, George Thindwa, who gave the following initial report:
The Mzembes were living in Area 18 township.They were labeled as witches and afraid of mob justice, they left Area 18 and reallocated to Chinsapo township in Likuni, some 20kilometers away.

Their accusers did not leave them alone and in peace but followed them to Chinsapo. One of them disguised herself as a visitor from Blantyre and had access to their house sometime in August 2010 where she accused the children as satanists and of witchcraft.

She left and the following morning they received a phone call from a lady from  Area 18 accusing them of being witches and  being responsible for causing misery through witchcraft including death to the family of a person who was  their former neighbors  at Area 18 location.

When the Mzembes took up this issue with the Police at Area 18, they ended up being charged themselves with witchcraft- in short pretending witchcraft. And the case is in court against them. Children of the neighbor are testifying that the Mzembes come at night  from Chinsapo to Area 18 through magic; taught them witchcraf and flew to graveyards where they ate human flesh.
The outcome of the case was another victory for ASH where the magistrate has been able to apply the law correctly as Thindwa reports:
The Ruling for the Mzembes case on pretending witchcraft came to court today on 14 April at 11.30 am. ASH’s George Thindwa was in attendance.
Magistrate Gomani read his ruling this way:
1- He stated that the Court heard the evidence from the children that the Mzembes were practicing witchcraft. That they fly to America in lichelo (winnowing basket) where they drink human blood.
2- but the case before this  court was on pretending witchcraft which in short, the state witnesses should have shown that the accused by their statements or actions  pretended themselves as witches or having powers of witchcraft to the state witnesses or police.
3- the state witnesses did not show any evidence of admission on part of the accused that  they pretended witchcraft.
4- there was further no evidence paraded in the court for any statements or actions that the accused pretended witchcraft to the witnesses or the police.
5- the Magistrate said that since there was no evidence shown by the state regarding pretending witchcraft, he concluded that the prosecution failed to demonstrate to the court where it could  find the accused with a case to answer and ask them to defend themselves. He therefore found the accused, Mr Mzembe and his wife with NO CASE TO ANSWER! They were acquitted accordingly. The wife and husband were quite happy with madame shedding a tear. Those wishing to appeal his decision were asked to do so within 30 days!

This is very good outcome and we at the Association have received it with great pleasure. Those accused of witchcraft and charged of pretending witchcraft are getting justice in our Courts particularly with regard to the Lilongwe Magistrate court which is a shining model on how best to handle witchcraft cases. You may recall that 5 people were also acquitted by the same Lilongwe Magistrate court last week on 25th March!
When asked whether the Police in Lilongwe now understood the law correctly, Thindwa replied that it was not yet the case but many of the Police prosecutors are not happy with their seniors for sending them such cases.

Science & Critical Thinking Published in Sunday Times 17th April 2011

Understanding the Rationalizations of the ‘Believers’
Quotation: Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.
Isaac Asimov
There are passages in the Bible indicating that God condoned slavery. To critical thinkers this presents a quandary. If the words of God are immutable why do Christians and Jews no longer follow all? Many argue that God had to "fit in" with the dominant culture. No! In Christian mythology, God is the one who created humans and human culture. We should all agree that a God that condones the beating of slaves and the enslavement of children is an abomination.
Believer say, "Those verses are from the Old Testament and no longer apply because of Jesus."  But that is not so. Jesus states that the laws of the Old Testament still stand. Matthew 5:18:
For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.

According to Jesus, the Old Testament is alive and well. According to Isaiah 40:8, "the word of our God stands forever." The notion that these Old Testament verses no longer apply is completely untrue according to the Bible. Christians imagine that they "no longer apply" as a way of rationalizing their religion.
Others rationalize that God did not write these slavery passages in the Bible. The Bible was corrupted by slave-loving men. Then the obvious question to ask is: If the Bible has been corrupted, how can we know which parts of the Bible came from God and which parts were inserted by men? You have no way to know.
Thinking about the Bible in this way you will understand something very important about the Bible. Either the entire Bible really is God's Word, or the entire Bible was written by men with no input from God:
If part of the Bible came from God and part from men, which part is which? You do not know if Jesus resurrected, or if that's just a make-believe story inserted by men. How do you know whether God wrote the Ten Commandments or not? If any part of the Bible has been polluted by men, you have to reject the whole thing.

There is no middle ground. The Bible has to be an all-or-nothing book. Either the entire Bible came from God, or none of it did.
You must now see that there are only two possible explanations for slavery passages in the Bible:
  • The Bible is right. God condones slavery. The Bible is God's word. Slavery passages must be God's word too. The laws of the modern nations that make slavery illegal defy God's word.
  • The Bible condones slavery because the Bible was written by slave-owning men, not by God. God is imaginary.
Maybe you have a problem with the first explanation. Surely God would not champion the abomination that is slavery!
Therefore, what you are left with is the second explanation.

Monday, April 11, 2011


The Malawi News of April 9, 2011 reports that three deaths in Blantyre’s Bangwe Township resulted from witchcraft.
First to die was Veronica, the Chiwala’s seven year old child. Agness, the child’s mother, a member of the Chiwala family  accused her neighbours, the Duncan family, of having bewitched the child. In the ensuing fracas three members of the Duncan family attacked Agness using  large pestles (pounding sticks) and hoe handles as clubs. She was taken to hospital where she was found dead on arrival.
The Police arrested two of the assailants on a charge of murder but the third escaped. He was later found dead having killed himself by taking poison.

Science & Critical Thnking - Sunday Times column April 10, 2011

Quote: Religion will not regain its old power until it can face change in the same spirit as does science. ~ Alfred North Whitehead
Great men think outside the box and one such man is Charles Darwin, the proponent of Evolution. The pious have hated evolution. However, evolution is accepted as a fact by informed persons including some theologians. Darwin was a Christian with an inquisitive mind. He observed the world and was convinced that there are better explanations for the origin of life than creation. He said: Nature is a ruthless system of hunting, killing, devouring, fleeing, starving, misery and too much suffering. I cannot persuade myself that such occurrences come from a loving creator and omnipotent deity”
Darwin was trained in medicine and theology intending to become a cleric. As he grew older, he abandoned Christian views and became an agnostic. While at Cambridge, he accepted a job as a naturalist. This happenstance changed history forever. For five years, he roved the seas, observed animals, plants and fossils, the differences in species isolated from each other on remote islands.
With this experience at sea, he hit upon the idea of natural selection; the endless struggle for survival; leading to the theory of the evolution of species. Like the work of Copernicus that revealed that the earth revolves, Darwin's idea shook the foundations of religion and altered humanity's view of its place in the universe. To this day, the storm he created has not abated. Evolution is opposed to the biblical account of creation where species were created by a deity.
Evolution is the unifying force in modern biology. It states that all living things are inter-related; that higher organisms including man have evolved from simpler life forms. Support for evolution comes from different areas.
1.    Fossils of animals, plants belonging to different periods of time. Fossils show that species converge toward ever simpler forms and common ancestors.
2.    The protein structure of man and rhesus monkey are similar.
3.    The human embryo possesses gill-like organs, eyes on the sides of the head   and vertebral column showing the extension the tail of amphibians- all indicating fishes and amphibians as our ancestors.
4.    Existence of vestigial organs; that are of no major current use to an organism but are a remnants of an earlier form from which the organism evolved, i.e. small vestigial hind legs in Boa snakes; useless tails in crabs.

The time scale of evolution is enormous.  In slowly evolving organisms the changes took vast amount of time to occur. In the case of the reproductive cell in humans or in some bacteria, the period is short.
Evolution does not talk about the origin of life. But how did life begin? That body of discovery is left to the discipline of study called abiogenesis. Scientists have done some experiments in that area with remarkable findings. Evolution is evidence-based, shows what actually occurred and is therefore a fact. Creation remains an opinion without evidence or established by observation. Anybody who denies evolution is a history denier says R. Dawkins. Celebrate Darwin on 12 February!