The Malawi Law Society (MLS) has cautioned that some advertisements by a section of traditional healers are criminal in nature and warns those involved that they risk prosecution.
The MLS position follows an inquiry by The Nation in the wake of an increase in adverts placed in both print and electronic media with some herbalists claiming to possess herbs for different ailments, fortunes and misfortunes.
MLS secretary Felisah Kilembe said in a written response to a questionnaire that telling people to steal and assuring them that they will not face prosecution is criminal in itself.
She said: “Telling some people that if they steal from their companies, they will not be arrested can be interpreted to mean that the speaker [the traditional healer] is soliciting or inciting someone to break the law and that is a criminal offence. It is a violation of Section 124 of the Penal Code.”
The said Section 124(1) reads: “Any person who, whether in writing or by words or by his behaviour or otherwise:
(a) . Solicits or incites any other person to fail to comply with or to contravene any law in force in Malawi or in any part thereof; or
(b) . Indicates or implies to any person that it would be incumbent or desirable to fail to comply with or contravene any such law, shall be liable to imprisonment for five years.”
And Section 124(2) adds: “It shall be no defence to a charge under this section that the solicitation, incitement, indication or implication, as the case may be, neither has had nor could have had any effect.”
Kilembe said the mere fact of soliciting or inciting someone to break the law is punishable regardless of whether the person solicited or incited.
“If the person incited does break the law, goes and steals, then the one who incited him can be charged as if he had committed the crime himself,” said Kilembe.
For example, in one advert aired on a local radio station, the herbalist appears to be encouraging employees to steal from their organisations as he claims to have charms that would prevent them from being arrested.
There is also another advert run in newspapers where another herbalist claims to have the powers to make an employee receive as much as three times their monthly salary.
Traditional Healers Association president Dr Yohane said he is one of the people not amused with such advertisements.
He said most of the ads are flighted to solicit money from people, a development he described as theft.
However, Yohane said his association is powerless to act.
“We have summoned them a number of times, but they don’t show up. They are doing this because no one will make them liable for what they are doing,” said Yohane.
Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs spokesperson Apoche Itimu said the practice would be referred to police for their action as they are the ones that determine whether an act is an offence or not.
But Malawi Police Service (MPS) national spokesperson Rhoda Manjolo said there is no specific legislation that could be used to corner the herbalists.
She said the only statute that could come closer is Section 181 of the Penal Code which deals with conduct likely to cause breach of peace.
The section stipulates a penalty of K50 or three months imprisonment.