The Case of the Penis Snatchers
Where's Nancy Drew When You Need Her?
Police in Congo have arrested suspected sorcerers accused of using black magic to steal or shrink men's private parts. There has been a wave of panic and attempted lynchings triggered by the alleged witchcraft.
Reports of so-called penis snatching are not uncommon in West Africa, where belief in traditional religions and witchcraft remains widespread, and where ritual killings to obtain blood or body parts still occur. Rumours of the bizarre theft began circulating last week in the capital Kinshasa. They quickly dominated radio call-in shows, with listeners advised to beware of fellow passengers in communal taxis wearing gold rings, who were blamed for the devastating curse.
Purported victims, 14 of whom were detained by police, claimed that sorcerers simply touched them to make their genitals shrink or disappear. But some residents said the victims were simply trying to extort cash by promising a cure, proved by the reappearance of their genitals. "You just have to be accused of that, and people come after you. We've had a number of attempted lynchings. ... You see them covered in marks after being beaten, said Jean-Dieudonne Oleko, Kinshasa’'s police chief.
Police arrested the accused sorcerers and their victims in an effort to avoid the sort of bloodshed seen in Ghana a decade ago, when 12 suspected penis-snatchers were beaten to death by angry mobs. I'm tempted to say it's one huge joke," Mr. Oleko said. "But when you try to tell the victims that their penises are still there, they tell you that it's become tiny or that they've become impotent. To that I tell them, 'How do you know if you haven't gone home and tried it?' he said.
Some Kinshasa residents accuse a separatist sect from the nearby Bas-Congo province of being behind the witchcraft in revenge for a recent government crackdown on its members.
It's real. Just yesterday here, there was a man who was a victim. We saw. What was left was tiny, said 29-year-old Alain Kalala.