Malawi’s ‘hyenas’ were revealed a couple of months ago to be sex workers in Malawi who are paid to have sex with women for reasons of ritual cleansing.
One of such hyenas, Eric Aniva, had spoken out in a BBC feature of the horrific tradition and in that BBC feature, it had been revealed that he is HIV-positive.
After the feature, which thrust Eric Aniva into a glaring spotlight, Malawi’s President Peter Mutharika had asked that the police investigate and charge him over the cases of defilement he had seemingly confessed to.
The hyena custom, common in some rural areas in Malawi, is seen as a form of ritual cleansing and is expected from women who have an abortion, women whose husbands die and teenage girls after their first menstruation. The ritual cleansing was expected to take place over a three-day period.
A Malawi court has finally convicted and sentenced the HIV-positive Eric Aniva, who confessed to having sex with 104 girls and widows in traditional hyena rituals. The 45-yeal old man was found guilty on Friday on two counts after a trial that lasted only one day. The courtroom was in the district of Nsanje, and was packed as the public looked on.
The magistrate, Innocent Nebi, said;
“It is clear … that the state has proved beyond reasonable doubt that the accused was engaging in harmful practices,”
“I find you guilty and convict you accordingly.”
On November 22nd, Eric Aniva was sentenced to 24 months in jail with hard labor for having unprotected sex with newly bereaved widows. The hyena would have been up for a stricter punishment but the President’s intended charge of defiling young girls could not stick because the girls did not come forward to testify.
He had instead been tried for “harmful cultural practice” under section five of Malawi’s Gender Equality Act, for having sex with new widows. Two women testified against him on that count.
Michael Goba Chipeta, Eric Aniva’s lawyer, said he would appeal against the conviction and the sentence. Aniva himself spoke outside court saying;
“I dared to reveal what I have been practising. But my arrest, prosecution and even imprisonment will not stop others from practising a custom which has been in existence for over 100 years.”
It remains unknown how widespread the hyena custom is in Malawi, where the rituals are believed to take place, especially, in the south but Aniva’s parting shot outside court shows that it is still a practiced custom.