A debate is raging in Zambia following reports that the country's biggest public university has introduced a degree program on witchcraft.
According to reports, the University of Zambia (UNZA) has introduced a degree program in witchcraft sponsored by the United Nations' Education, Science, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), with 20 students enrolled for the start of the program.
According to local media, UNESCO Zambia Commissioner-General Charles Ndakala said the university was scheduled to begin offering the degree course which is part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage program, after getting a grant of 340, 000 U.S. dollars from the United Nations (UN) body.
Ndakala said Intangible Cultural Heritage was a study of practices such as witchcraft and other social practices and that it was hoped that once the 20 students graduated, they would be able to spearhead the process of safeguarding the country's cultural heritage.
According to him, despite efforts in safeguarding cultural heritage, a number of countries had experienced cases of destruction of priceless cultural heritage, imperiling important traditions and customs. But the announcement has received mixed reactions from a cross-section, with some saying the decision was in conflict with the country's declaration as a Christian nation.
"Light and darkness cannot mix. Zambia is anchored on Christian principles," Godfridah Sumaili, the country's Minister of National Guidance and Religious Affairs told local media. She said Zambia, a Christian nation, cannot allow the study of witchcraft, adding that the practice of witchcraft was an act of darkness and teaching the course at the country's public university would be an abomination.
Reverend Waton Kawala said Zambians should stand up and fight against moves by donors to introduce diabolical issues which were against the Christian beliefs.
"We are a Christian nation and we have values which should be upheld. We know that there are some people who are involved in witchcraft but we are not going to allow a school that will be teaching more witches," he said.
According to him, Zambia should be wary of donors coming into the country with ill-motives meant to destroy the values the country was founded on.
But Chief Government Spokesperson Dora Siliya said it was not true that the university will be offering a degree program on witchcraft, adding that the reports were false and should be dismissed.
She said witchcraft was associated with harmful practices and that there was no way UNESCO could promote programs which were harmful in nature.
"UNZA with the support of UNESCO has a course on intangible culture heritage including songs, proverbs, dance. The government has not allowed the teaching of witchcraft at UNZA," she told reporters during a press briefing.
Gankhanani Moyo, an expert in Intangible Cultural Heritage expressed hope that the degree program would excel as it was the first of its kind not only in Zambia but Africa as a whole.
The expert said Intangible Cultural Heritage was at the center of people's lives as every culture had its heritage expressed through music, as well as associated instruments, objects, artifacts, and rituals.
For Yonah Musukwa, a resident of Lusaka, the country's capital, the course was welcome as it will uncover the myths surrounding witchcraft and its practice.
"This is excellent thinking. We have heard for so long, so much tales, some bordering on pure nonsense, surrounding the practice of witchcraft. This course is long overdue. We need to start studying and properly get informed about some of these tales and myths our ancestors practiced for generations and learn about our heritage, as Africans in general, and blacks in particular," he said.
The debate on the need to understand the practice of witchcraft in Zambia is not a new phenomenon as Higher Education Minister Nkandu Luo last year caused a stir when she suggested that Zambian scientists could learn from their South African counterparts who had commenced studies in witchcraft in some universities.
Her comments that Zambia should consider researching into witchcraft as a science that could be used productively for the benefit of the country received a backlash. This forced the government to issue a statement denying planning to introduce research in witchcraft.