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Article ID: 11919

VoxAcct: 186499

Section: words

Age Group: Adult

Days Up: 2,420

Times Read: 3,075

RSS Views: 39,733
S.A. Witches Will Define Themselves, Thank You

Author: Damon Leff
Posted: September 2nd. 2007
Times Viewed: 3,075

In June this year the Office of the Premier of Mpumalanga Province, South Africa, leaked a draft Witchcraft Suppression Bill which threatens to undermine the freedoms and rights already guaranteed to an existing religious minority – Witches - by deliberately criminalizing and prohibiting said religious minority’s constitutionally guaranteed right to exist and to practice their religion. The Bill seeks to suppress Witchcraft and will imprison self-defined Witches on the assumption of automatic inference of criminality.

In submitted formal objections to the proposed Suppression Bill the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA) and the South African Pagan Council (SAPC), supported by Pagans across the country who define themselves as Witches, have criticized the Mpumalanga legislature’s decision to base their Bill on a piece of Apartheid legislation – the Witchcraft Suppression Act (Act 3 of 1957 as amended by Act 50 of 1970).

The Suppression Bill contradicts 11 clauses enshrined in the Bill of Rights, Chapter Two of the Constitution of South Africa, by denying self-defined Witches the right to dignity, equality, religious freedom, expression, association and the right to choose their trade, occupation or profession freely. The Act would in effect deny equal citizenship to South Africans who define their religion as Witchcraft.

SAPRA has called on the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development to support the enactment of legislation to prevent or prohibit unfair discrimination, to protect and advance persons or categories of persons disadvantaged by unfair discrimination, and to promote the achievement of equality for a specific historically disadvantaged religious minority – Witches.

SAPRA and the SAPC have presented an alternative Witchcraft Protection Bill to the Mpumalanga legislature for consideration as a replacement to the current Suppression Bill. Chapter 9 (4) of the Constitution of South Africa makes provision for the drafting of legislation to prevent or prohibit unfair discrimination.

The Protection Bill will provide for the protection of self-defined Witches, protect Witchcraft as a belief system and religion, and prohibit discrimination against persons claiming to be Witches, or alleged to be Witches or practicing Witchcraft.

Who defines Witchcraft?

The Suppression Bill defines Witchcraft as:

…the secret use of muti, zombies, spells, spirits, magic powders, water, mixtures, etc, by any person with the purpose of causing harm, damage, sickness to others or their property.

Self-defined Witches have rejected this definition on the grounds that it stereotypes witchcraft as harmful and portrays Witches as a danger to the communities within which they live and work. The proposed definition will merely serve to justify public fear of witchcraft and promote malice and violence against suspected witches.

SAPRA has called on Provincial and national government authorities to halt the passage of the Suppression Bill and has provided the authorities with the following preferred definition of Witchcraft:

…a religio-magical occupation that employs the use of sympathetic magic, ritual, herbalism and divination.

Urgent need to avert a Witch-Hunt

The national Witchcraft Suppression Act (1957) prohibits not only the knowledge and practice of witchcraft but also the practice of divinations. The Act also makes it illegal to accuse another of either being a Witch or of using witchcraft to cause harm.

Since 1980 thousands of innocent men and women have been accused of being witches or of using witchcraft. Many have been murdered by their communities without trial. Many more have been banished from their villages, their homes destroyed and members of their families murdered or forced to flee in fear of their lives.

For many South Africans a witch is nothing but a source of mischief, quarrel, illness, barrenness and sudden death. In common usage the word ‘witch’ is virtually synonymous with poisoner, murderer and liar and has become a label of convenience for any archetypal evil that threatens the natural and good societal order.

In rural South Africa, the mere suspicion of witchcraft activity may lead to accusation, assault, enforced exile or murder, especially in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Kwazulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

We are not criminals

Despite numerous inter-governmental investigations into the phenomena of ‘witch-purging’ by individuals and communities within South Africa and in spite of numerous very detailed published reports, including the Thohoyandou Declaration, no attempt has been made to reconcile the two very different world-views at stake when discussing witchcraft from a traditional African and Christian perspective, and Witchcraft from a South African Pagan perspective.

The 1995 Report of the Ralushai Commission of Inquiry into Witchcraft Violence and Ritual Murder in the Northern Province, defined the term ‘witch’ to mean a person who,

…through sheer malice, either consciously or subconsciously, employs magical means to inflict all manner of evil on their fellow human beings. They destroy property, bring disease or misfortune and cause death, often entirely without provocation to satisfy their inherent craving for evil doing.

Testifying before a Truth and Reconciliation Commission Amnesty Hearing in July 1999 Professor Ralushai confirmed his Commission’s definition of ‘a witch’ when he was asked by attorney Patrick Ndou to define what a Witch was. Ralushai stated,

“A witch is supposed to be a person who is endowed with powers of causing illness or ill luck or death to the person that he wants to destroy.”

It could be argued that maintaining and reinforcing a definition predisposed to eliciting violence against alleged witches was never in the best interest of tolerance or reconciliation.

The characterization of a person or group of persons (witches) as ‘evil’ and so deserving of criminal classification by default makes a mockery of the values of human dignity, equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms on which the Republic of South Africa is founded.

Witchcraft is a religion

Witchcraft is an ancient magical system that employs the use of divination, sympathetic magic and Pagan ritual practices. Contemporary Witches define their religio-spiritual practices as a craft and modern Witches ply their craft as herbalists, diviners and magic workers.

As ‘Wicca’, Witchcraft has evolved into a modern Pagan mystery religion. Wicca is an initiatory, polytheistic (with exceptions), Pagan mystery religion inspired by various pre- and post-Christian western European beliefs and spiritual practices. Gerald Gardner popularized Wicca in England in the 1950’s. An initiate of 'the Wicca' is one who traces his or her initiatory lineage back to Gerald Gardner or his initiates.

Not all Witches define themselves as 'Wicca'. Contrived disassociation of the term ‘Wicca’ from ‘Witch’ in order to support a cultural and religious world-view of good (the Wicca) versus evil (the Witch) is grossly misleading. The Wicca are (with exception), by self-definition, Witches.

Pagans identify their religion as a modern Earth and Nature venerating spirituality, one that embraces ancient and new forms of spiritual and magical practice, including the veneration of ancient Gods and Goddesses worshiped by pagans of the pre-Christian world.

Although no definite census exists, it is estimated that there are between 3000 and 5000 self-defined Pagan Witches in South Africa.



Damon Leff

Location: Hoogekraal - southern Cape, South Africa


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