can we stop talking like young people are the only group marginalised by age please
While multiple factors have combined to produce a climate in which the fear of witches thrives, there is a consensus that at the root of the witch- hunts there is a fierce struggle for survival that takes the form of an intergenerational struggle.
It is young men, often unemployed, who provide the manpower for the witch-hunts, although often executing plans hatched by other actors who remain in the shadow. They are the ones who go from house to house to collect the money needed to pay a witch-finder or ambush and execute the accused. With no possibility of going to school, no prospect of making a living off the land or finding other forms of income, unable to fulfill their roles as family providers, many young men, in today’s structurally adjusted Africa, despair about their future, and are easily led to war against their communities. Often hired and trained as mercenaries by politicians, rebel armies, private companies, or the state, they are ready to organize punitive expeditions, especially against old people whom they blame for their misfortunes and see as a burden as well as an obstacle to their wellbeing. It is in this context, that (in the words of an old Congolese man) “the youth represent a [constant threat] for us oldsters.”
Thus, older folks returning to their villages with the savings of a lifetime have found themselves charged as witches and expropriated from their houses and earnings, or worse, have been killed —hanged, buried or burned alive. In 1996 alone, the Congolese Human Rights Monitoring Commission “recorded about 100 case where elderly people, accused of witchcraft, were hung.” Pensioners have been a common target also in Zambia, where “village leaders are believed to be conspiring with witch-finders to strip [them] of the assets they have acquired over the years,” prompting a newspaper article to comment that “Retiring, going back home has become a risky business!”. In North rural South Africa, young men have burnt old women alive, accusing them of turning dead people into zombies in order to get ghost workers and deprive the youth of work.
(I really distrust this idea that disrespect for the elderly is specific to white western cultures. I don’t think that’s true and so what if it was? a superficial reading of white western culture would lead us to conclude that women are highly respected, but chivalry doesn’t disprove patriarchy, it’s part of it.)