I Was A Witch For Six Months!

Letters From A Retired Miner – Part 4


I started work as a miner at Wusakile SOB Shaft in 1962 when I was 15 years old. A lot of people registered a different date of birth because we wanted to get jobs in the mine. I said I was born in 1932 when I was actually born in 1947. I was tall and big, so I did not have a problem looking like I was 20 years old. Any way, most of us did not even know when we were born. Our parents did not have birth certificates for us.

If you work underground in the mines it is very hard work. Farming in the village is nothing. When you are farming there are some soft patches in the field and you can rest when you want. When you are working with a shovel in your hands and lashing for 8 hours underground, it is hard work. Every day it is hot underground and the rock is very hard. The water from drilling just makes less dust, but the rock remains hard.  

 If you are shift boss, sometimes you stand and look at the men who are working. You get a chance to breathe. Also, the Nchanga Consolidated Copper Mines paid bosses more than the workers. Everybody wanted to be the boss.

I wanted promotion so I was thinking, how can I get promoted? Some of my friends were talking about a witchdoctor in Mansa who made a name for himself as a very powerful witchdoctor. The only problem was that he asked for a lot of money.

After saving some money, I borrowed some more from my friends and relatives to go and pay the witchdoctor. He asked me to pay him two white chickens and K500 (Five hundred Kwacha). This was a lot of money in 1964. (For K3,000 Kwacha my boss bought a second hand Fiat 124 car).      

 I wanted the witchdoctor in Mansa because he was good and everybody was talking about him. In July I got leave and I went to my village at Chipili Mission in Luapula Province. On the way, I stopped in Mansa and went to see the famous witchdoctor. He gave me some roots to put in a cup of water. He said if I drink this every day and mention the name of my boss three times after drinking, he will like me and he will promote me. He gave me a small root but from a different tree to keep in my pocket in my overalls when I go on shift.

I did not tell my father because he was always very angry if anybody wanted to talk about witchdoctors or herbal medicine from the village. Even my grandfather, he did not like African medicine. When my grandfather was a soldier he travelled to different countries and he was very educated about the Western medicine at the Mission hospital.

One day my grandfather told me that everybody is born and everybody has another day. On that day they will die. But in our tradition if anybody died the witchdoctor wanted to find who killed him. Sometimes the witchdoctor said an uncle killed him or even his parents. This made many families enemies. My grandfather was angry that innocent people were even chased from some villages because the witchdoctor said they were witches.

My sisters are witches. The witchdoctor did not say that they were witches but I think they are witches. What they have done to me, that is witchcraft. They have spoiled my good family life with my wife. That is the work of the devil. That is why I call them witches. God will punish them.  

Any way, I wanted my boss, bwana de Groot to like me and to promote me.

Before independence in 1964, we had a lot of South African Boers working as bosses. Everybody knew that they were very tough bosses. They spoke Lapalapa and every day they shouted at us. I was very afraid of de Groot. This is why I wanted to use the medicine to make him good to me.

This was my first time to use medicine from the witchdoctor. He said it was a very strong medicine. I was afraid that if the medicine was too strong may be it will kill me. That is why I drank only once a day. In the morning I drank a bit but in the evening I did not drink.

I think I was right. The medicine was too strong. After I was drinking every day for one month bwana de Groot called me to his office. He said he wanted two Africans who lived in a village before. He wanted them to go and find animals to shoot with his rifle. He wanted me and Ngulube,  another miner in my shift, to go with him and his musungu friends on a hunting trip.

On Friday de Groot, his friends and me and Ngulube drove to Mwekera, near the Kafue river. Those days there was a big forest in Mwekera. In the night we managed to hunt two Duickers. We also shot two rabbits and we grilled them. de Groot and his friends were very happy. They got Mosi Larger and Castle Larger from the car and everybody was drinking. For the first time I saw de Groot smiling for a long time like a normal man. He gave us some beer and said “Drink. You are black but you are my brothers because my grand mother was also black.” We all laughed and Ngulube said “You are drinking too much bwana de Groot.” Everybody was laughing and we were happy.

When we went back to Wusakile, I put another root in my medicine cup and I was drinking the medicine after work also. After five months my shift boss, Chisenga, was arrested because he was fighting at the tavern. He hit a man with a big stick and the man was taken to Kitwe Central Hospital. So my shift boss was fired.

When de Groot called me to his office I was shaking. I was thinking that what have I done? This medicine was putting an innocent man in hospital and another man in prison! de Groot told me that now I was new shift boss.

When I got to my house I went straight to my bedroom. I took the medicine water and all the spare roots. I also took the root out of my pocket. When it was dark, I went to the public toilet in section C in Wusakile and I threw everything in the toilet. I waited until the water flushed the toilets and everything was gone. Then I went home.

The witchdoctor said I must take the medicine for 6 months. He said don’t stop if you are promoted and don’t stop if you are not promoted. But I was afraid that if I drank more medicine it will finish the man who was in hospital. I just wanted promotion. I am not a killer. I am not a witch.

After that I did not go back to the witchdoctor. That was the last time I touched any medicine from a witchdoctor. It makes me very afraid.

I was a witch for six months. I regret it very much. Now I am a Christian and I go to church every Sunday.

I think God punished me through my sisters because of that juju medicine from the witchdoctor in Mansa. I will explain more when I tell you more about Namukolo, the woman that I love so much.


Did you miss Shi Bwembya’s earlier Letters From A Retired Miner?

Catch up here:

Part 1 – My Retirement

Part 2 – The Day I Followed Namukolo Home

Part 3 – Running After Namukolo's Love


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