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They Cut Segametsi Into Parts: Ritual Murder, Youth, and the Politics of Knowledge in Botswana


This article focuses on witchcraft in order to examine youth in Botswana. Two witchcraft realms preoccupy youth: boloi, in which an individual manipulates materials for personal gain or to harm someone, and dipheko, or ritual murder. Boloi poses a threat to youth by inducing headaches, pain, and dizziness. This suffering prevents youths' socially upward movement and economic improvement by resulting in school failure, with ramifications for the family as well as the individual. Dipheko, while less common, is also dangerous to youth. Stories of witchcraft and school failure are related to conflicted social relations, competition for scarce resources, and youth action. Ritual murder accentuates these issues, magnifying and telescoping tensions onto youths' bodies whose mutilation symbolizes a reversal of expected behavior and an interruption of social reproduction. Both kinds of witchcraft explain school failure and youth vulnerability, but each involves knowledge and youth action differently. In boloi youth supposedly know and do nothing—only adult actions yield results. Dipheko, however, reveals youth vulnerability yet also provides opportunity to address it.