The South African Pagan Rights Alliance
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Article ID: 13753
Age Group: Adult
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Author: Damon Leff
Posted: January 17th. 2010
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The South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA) was formed in 2004 as a faith-based (Pagan) human rights activist alliance. The Alliance was formally reconstituted in March 2006 as a voluntary association with the drafting of a formal Charter. In November 2008 the Alliance adopted a new Constitution, establishing the independence of the Alliance as a non-profit body corporate, with the creation of a Board of Directors to oversee the affairs of the Alliance as a separate legal entity.
SAPRA currently fulfils several important functions in line with its constitutional mandate, namely, to promote the guaranteed liberties and freedoms enshrined for all South African Pagans in the Bill of Rights and assist South African Pagans, whose constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms have been infringed due to unfair discrimination, to obtain appropriate redress. SAPRA offers free non-legal assistance and advice in lodging complaints against discrimination and in the pursuance of legal remedy.
SAPRA is governed by a Board of Directors that include an elected Executive Committee and an elected Executive Director. The Executive Committee is tasked with managing the general and daily affairs of SAPRA. The committee is nominated and elected annually by the members of the Alliance and is mandated to act on behalf of and in full and transparent consultation with the members of the Alliance. The Executive Director functions as the Chief Executive Officer (Chairperson) and presides over the deliberations and activities undertaken by the Executive Committee. The Chairperson is elected by the general membership for a period of three years. Our current Executive Director is Morgause Fonteleve (Registrar of the South African Pagan Council) .
Several successive Executive Committees since 2006 have executed their mandate in a number of ways, including addressing and challenging media prejudice against Paganism, promoting positive media coverage of Paganism in general, challenging institutional, political and legislative prejudice against Witchcraft, and offering non-legal assistance to Pagans seeking advice or assistance in dealing with incidences of discrimination. Executive members volunteer time, effort and money in support of the aims and objectives of the Alliance, but also in support of the well-being and advancement of the national religious minority of which we are a small part.
SAPRA is an affiliated member of the South African Pagan Council (SAPC) , formed in 2006, and represents the SAPC in matters relating to the defense and protection of the rights of Pagans in South Africa.Membership
Formal membership to the Alliance is restricted to any South African citizen who self-identifies as a Pagan. Since 2004 SAPRA’s membership has increased in response to and as a consequence of this Alliance’s increased media visibility and advocacy activities. Alliance members offer their support, encouragement and continuing voluntary commitment to the Alliance and its mandate.
SAPRA’s Yahoo forum http://groups.yahoo.com/group/sapra/ is a free public forum maintained by SAPRA's Executive and serves to facilitate public participation in discussions on human rights issues affecting the South African Pagan religious community.
SAPRA also has a Facebook presence - http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=104597030014
Since 2004 SAPRA has focused its attention on a number of important issues.
South African Polices Service and Occult-related crimes unit
In 2004 and 2005 SAPRA challenged prejudicial content on the occult (including Witchcraft, Magic and Satanism) published on the South African Polices Services website. This material was eventually removed from the SAPS website at SAPRA's request. SAPRA also lobbied the SAPS to alter its prejudicial definition of 'Occult-related crime'. The Alliance continues to monitor the activities of the SAPS in this regard in order to ensure that practitioners of the occult, irrespective of their personal religion, are not prejudiced as a result of unfair discrimination.
Statistics South Africa and 2011 National Census
In 2005 and 2006 SAPRA lobbied Statistics South Africa for the inclusion of Paganism on the 2011 national census. The Alliance intends launching a national call to all South African Pagans to actively participate in the 2011 census.
Pagan Religious Marriage Officers
In 2006 SAPRA was invited by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs to make a presentation on the Civil Union Bill. The Alliance expressed its support for the equal recognition of same-sex marriages and advocated for the recognition of Pagan religious marriage officers. In February 2008 the Department of Home Affairs approved an application submitted by the Alliance for designation as a religious organization in terms of and in accordance with section 5 (1) and (2) of the Civil Union Act (Act 17 of 2006) . According to section 5 of the Civil Union Act SAPRA may solemnize marriages and civil partnerships. SAPRA was the first Pagan organization to be granted this designation. SAPRA currently has 4 designated religious marriage officers.
Witchcraft Suppression Act
In February 2007 SAPRA submitted an appeal to the South African Law Reform Commission to initiate urgent legislative reform to the Witchcraft Suppression Act (Act 3 of 1957 as amended by Act 50 of 1970) in order to prevent any further or future unfair discrimination and prejudice against citizens of a free and democratic country founded on the recognition of human dignity, equality for all - irrespective of religion or belief, and the advancement of human rights and freedoms for all South African citizens equally. SAPRA has argued that Act 3 must be declared unconstitutional and invalid to the extent to which this legislation identifies one group of persons (Witches) , on the grounds of belief (Witchcraft) , to be prohibited and criminal.
The South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC) has agreed to conduct a preliminary investigation in order to determine whether or not the Witchcraft Suppression Act 3 of 1957 should be repealed.
This appeal for legislative reform is supported by the South African Pagan Council (SAPC) and the Traditional Healers Organization (THO) . The SAPC and SAPRA are represented by Lawyers for Human Rights.
Mpumalanga Witchcraft Suppression Bill
In July 2007 SAPRA submitted a formal appeal to the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development to (a) review the 1957 Witchcraft Suppression Act, and (b) ensure that the Mpumalanga Legislature does not draft any legislation which will in any way prohibit or criminalize South African citizens on the grounds of belief or religion, or as the result of automatic inference of criminality.
SAPRA submitted objections against the proposed Mpumalanga Witchcraft Suppression Bill, drafted by the Mpumalanga Legislature, and appealed to the MEC to consider the ramifications of permitting acceptance of the Mpumalanga Witchcraft Suppression Bill on residents of Mpumalanga Province who do define themselves as Witches and who do define their religion as Witchcraft.
The Alliance submitted substantial objections against the proposed Mpumalanga Witchcraft Suppression Bill to the Mpumalanga Legislature. SAPRA registered as an Interested and Affected party with the Office of the Premier of the Mpumalanga Provincial Government on 25 June 2007.
SAPRA is opposed to the establishment of both traditional Witchcraft courts and the drafting of legislation that will in any way interfere with the pursuance of religious freedom and practice in South Africa.
Melville Mandate (2007)
In September 2007 SAPRA participated in the first Pagan Conference hosted by the South African Pagan Council in Melville, Johannesburg. Delegates elected five self-identified Witches to act as representatives, under the auspices of the South African Pagan Council (SAPC) , in order to fulfill what has become known as the 'Melville Mandate'. The current SAPC Delegation is represented by Enmarie Potgieter (High Priestess - Coven of the Wheel) , Samantha Perry (Independent) , Luke Martin (Convenor – South African Pagan Council) and Damon Leff (Director – South African Pagan Rights Alliance) .
The 'Melville Mandate' seeks to initiate urgent legislative reform to the Witchcraft Suppression Act in order to prevent any further or future unfair discrimination and prejudice against citizens of a free and democratic country founded on the recognition of human dignity, equality for all - irrespective of religion or belief, and the advancement of human rights and freedoms for all South African citizens equally.
The 'Melville Mandate' also seeks to reclaim the terms 'Witch' and 'Witchcraft' within a modern Pagan context and representatives have been tasked with fulfilling the goal of reclamation through various educational and other processes, including the possible establishment of a formal Commission of Enquiry to investigate ongoing violence against innocent persons accused of practicing malevolent Witchcraft.
See Minutes of the Melville Conference here: http://www.pagancouncil.co.za/files/MinutesofSAPCConference2007.pdf
Advocacy against Witch-hunts
In 2008 SAPRA launched the first annual advocacy campaign against Witch-hunts in South Africa. Between 29 March and April 27 2008 the Alliance launched '30 days of Advocacy against Prejudice and Violence'. This event will take place annually in order to encourage South African Pagans to speak out against religious discrimination against Witchcraft and against Witchcraft-related violence in South Africa.
In lieu of this advocacy campaign, three executive members of the Alliance, Morgause Fonteleve, Luke Martin and Damon Leff, collaborated in writing and publishing a free book entitled 'A Pagan Witches TouchStone'. SAPRA hopes that this work will enable rational dialogue on the subject of Witchcraft within a new South African context; one that recognizes the right of religious freedom and equality, self-identity and self-determination of religious minorities.
A free copy of this book can be downloaded here: http://www.paganrightsalliance.org/A%20Pagan%20Witches%20Touchstone.pdf
Media and Press
The practice of publishing distorted, prejudicial and pejorative propaganda against Witchcraft not only contravenes the Press Code with respect to avoiding discriminatory or denigratory references to people's religion, but also contravenes the Bill of Rights with respect to the right of religious communities to practice their religion, and the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act with respect to publishing, propagating or advocating prejudice that could reasonably be construed as demonstrating a clear intention to be hurtful and to promote or propagate mistrust of Witches.
Since 2006 SAPRA has monitored South African media and press in an attempt to address the publication of unfair, biased and prejudicial content on Paganism. The Alliance has challenged the propagation of harmful stereotypical defamation against Paganism and Witchcraft in particular, in both print and online media.
The South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA) intends to pursue legal action, on behalf of South African Witches, against both print and online newspapers that have and continue to publish inappropriate, distorted, exaggerated and misrepresented references to Witchcraft. Biased reporting on Witchcraft inspires prejudice against Witches themselves because such reporting reinforces, whether deliberately or unintentionally, generally espoused misconceptions and untruths regarding Witchcraft. When the group identity is defamed, individuals who share in that identity i.e. Witches, suffer a loss of dignity.
Other advocacy work
SAPRA has advocated against religious hate-speech and has challenged religious bias and prejudice on several occasions.
The National Party
In August 2008 SAPRA, together with the South African Pagan Council (SAPC) , objected to the religiously motivated intention of the National Party to suppress Witchcraft and to discriminate openly against South African citizens who identify as Witches. SAPRA and the SAPC objected to the registration of the National Party as a political party on the grounds that the National Party's policies on religion and religious education discriminate against a recognized religious minority. In September the National Party withdrew its discriminatory policy on religion and religious education and published a public statement of support for Paganism.
Also in August, SAPRA objected to allegations made by Pierre Eksteen, the Gauteng Education MEC Angie Motshekga and Krugersdorp Police spokespersons, that Satanism was responsible for Morne Harmse's attack and murder of fellow pupils at Nic Diederichs Technical High School in Krugersdorp. The Alliance cautioned the MEC and the SAPS not to incite further prejudice against Satanism or against self-defined Satanists.
It must be noted that the members of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance do not identify as Satanists and do not recognize Satanism as a Pagan religion or Pagan path. This Alliance's defense of Satanism in this instance was prompted solely by our sincere desire to prevent any prejudicial scapegoating of a religious minority. SAPRA will continue to defend the constitutional values on which our own liberty as Pagans and as Witches is founded.
In January 2009 SAPRA lodged a complaint against Tokyo Sexwale for making a public accusation of Witchcraft against COPE.
The Alliance takes cognizance of the fact that accusations of Witchcraft almost always lead to violence against the accused. SAPRA cautioned that using the term merely as an insult on a political platform constitutes religious prejudice and borders on hate speech against South African citizens, registered voters, who define their religion as Witchcraft.
The Alliance appealed to the Congress of the People and the African National Congress to defend and protect the right to freedom of religion, equality and dignity enshrined in chapter two of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, and to refrain from making any derogatory or prejudicial remarks on a political platform against Witchcraft.
Institutionalized bias and prejudice against Witchcraft
In February 2009 SAPRA published a paper entitled 'Witchcraft: a study in bias, prejudice and discrimination in South Africa' in which it outlined the role of institutionalized bias, prejudice and discrimination, in government, the law, and Chapter 9 institutions established to protect equality, in marginalizing Witches and Witchcraft in South Africa.
Amnesty International Day of Action
In July 2009 SAPRA supported an Amnesty International 'Day of Action for Justice in Gambia' by calling on the government of Gambia to uphold and strengthen human rights in Gambia for all peoples equally. The Alliance appealed to all African nations to put an end to Witch-hunts and to repeal anti-Witchcraft laws that inadvertently lead to the persecution of men, women and children on false and spurious accusations of bewitchment. The Alliance also appealed to the African Union to enforce a culture of respect for human rights on all member states as a precondition to any and all further negotiations on matters that might benefit countries with a proven record of repeated human rights abuses against its own citizens.
SAPRA opposes UN and IHEU call to eliminate Witchcraft
In November 2009 SAPRA lodged an appeal with the United Nations Human Rights Council against a call to suppress Witchcraft in Africa, made by the International Humanist and Ethical Union. SAPRA also challenged incorrect statistics provided to the UN by the IHEU concerning the number of human mutilations (erroneously referred to as muti-murders) which occur in South Africa.
SAPRA requested the International Humanist and Ethical Union and the United Nations Human Rights Council to cease calling for the suppression and elimination of Witchcraft in Africa.
Complaints against discrimination
SAPRA has assisted a number of Pagans seeking redress for incidences of religious discrimination. A complaints portfolio committee has been created in order to record and manage complaints received from Pagans alleging discrimination. This portfolio is responsible for receiving complaints of unfair discrimination, referral of complaints for discussion, investigation and appropriate resolution.
SAPRA endeavors to establish and maintain a working relationship with non-governmental institutions established to protect constitutional democracy in order to assist Pagans who seek redress for incidences of religious discrimination.
SAPRA and its Executive members strives to ensure that its work, as far as possible, remains transparent and in accordance with its mandate. To view a complete record of the Alliance's public activities visit our Press page - http://www.paganrightsalliance.org/press.html
South African Pagan Rights Alliance
The Chief Executive Officer
Tel/Fax: (044) 850 1297
P.O. Box 184 Hoekwil 6538
Location: Hoogekraal - southern Cape, South Africa
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