Letter of objection to draft of Prohibition of Harmful Practices Associated with Witchcraft Beliefs Bill

Ms Jennifer Joni
State Law Advisor
SA Law Reform Commission

I write this objection to the Prohibition of Harmful Practices Associated with Witchcraft Beliefs Bill, on Freedom Day- 27 April 2016.

Pagan Freedom day is a countrywide event in South Africa.  Pagans of every stripe come together in different regions, to celebrate Freedom of Religion. Witches have won a great battle against the Witchcraft Suppression act of 1957, but as a pagan and witch I am saddened by the draft of the new Bill. The new Prohibition of Harmful Practices Associated with Witchcraft Beliefs bill is more insidious than it sounds. Not only will people have the right to accuse others of malicious acts of witchcraft, but spectral evidence will be allowed in those convictions. It is with this sadness that I write this letter. 

Peter Grey in the seminal text “Apocalyptic Witchcraft”  asks:

“What is Witchcraft?”

And he answers thusly:

“Witchcraft is the sex that other people have, witchcraft the drug that other people take, witchcraft is the rite that other people perform. Witchcraft is the magic that other people do. Witchcraft is the clothes that other people wear. Witchcraft is the words that other people speak. Witchcraft is the Goddess they venerate…The next village, the next town, the next country, the old woman, the young woman, the Jew, the leper, the Cathar, the Templar, the Ophite, the Bogimil. They do it. Not us you understand, them.  You will find the witch at the end of a pointed finger.”

(Emphasis mine)

Acts like the Witchcraft Supression Act of 1957 (which was repealed as unconstitutional) and the draft Prohibition of Harmful Practices Associated with Witchcraft Beliefs bill, does nothing but to ‘other’ people in marginalised communities. Although Western witches are not on the frontlines of the attack, we have a duty as self-identified witches to fight against what can only turn into the repugnant witch hunts of Salem and Europe, where countless innocent people were put to death in variously cruel ways because of mass hysteria and fear of the ‘other’.

In South Africa and other African countries the violence done against children, women and the marginalised other is rampant. Children, animals and the elderly are abused, abandoned, and murdered, all because of the accusation of witchcraft. There is never any proof, there is no forensic investigation. Spectral evidence and superstition are used as proof and innocent people are victimized.

The Prohibition of Harmful Practices Associated with Wicthcraft Beliefs Bill, will only make it easier for people to get away with grievous acts of violence and injustice. 

Western Witches are not on the frontlines, but when we openly express our religious inclinations we inevitably open ourselves up to attack. In a country where religious freedom is granted to all, people are still afraid to identify as witches; our practices are viewed as evil, harmful and ‘other’. The very act of not identifying with one of the mainstream religions and embracing the word ‘witch’, puts us at risk under these laws.

I cannot deny the anarchic thread which runs through modern witchcraft, it was inherited from all those who were burned, hanged and tortured under our name. Witchcraft was put on trial, not because witches were doing evil things, like murdering, poisoning and harming others, but because witches undermined the social orders of the time simply by being ‘other’. Anyone who did not fall in line with the dominant puritanical viewpoints of the dominating culture was accused of Sorcery, Maleficia, Venifica and promptly tortured or murdered, under law.

The Western world was filled with many evils: slavery, racism, misogyny, homophobia etc. anyone who did not conform to the social norm of White, Male, Christian, Heterosexual, was dealt with violently. Apartheid is a prime and recent example of the gross injustice done to people who were not white enough and therefore ‘othered’. Western culture, and western religion supported these cruelties. Western culture viewed witches, non-white people, women, homosexuals and those of other religions, as all undermining the authority of their culture. They were seen to undermine the false sense of power that the dominating cultures gained through violence, torture, abuse and murder. Western culture was not right in partaking in all of these violent injustices, and neither is any other culture which does.

We as western witches are asked to accept the cultural definitions of witchcraft laid out in this country. We are asked to accept these cultural definitions which have caused so many innocent people to be accused, murdered, and subjected to psychological torture.

I, as a western witch, refuse.

Culture is not an excuse for rape,murder, misogony, homophobia, transphobia, and wiccaphobia. Culture, if it is to evolve past the relentless violence done to the other, needs to move towards a better understanding of human rights and restorative justice. Culture is not exempt from criticism. I do not have to, and should not have to, accept the cultural definitions of the dominating cultures- If those definitions cause violence, abuse and death to innocent parties.

This Bill, in so far that it targets witches, and witchcraft practices which are deemed harmful, does nothing to address the violence done in the name of other peoples religions and only seeks to prejudice people against witches. Priests who molest children, or who practice the psychologically traumatising act of exorcism, are not dealt with through a similar law. If such a law was to exist, I do not doubt there would be an outcry from various leaders in those religions. This would be considered a war on religion.

This Bill, seeks to allow the cultural definitions of witchcraft in Africa to be accepted, and in so doing will allow cultural prejudice and fear against the ‘other’ to run rampant. How can one prove a curse, a blight, a possession? How can one forensically prove the supernatural? Under this bill these accusations will be dealt with through spectral evidence, suspicion, fear, and traditional witch-smelling practices. Accusation is not proof.

The ones who become the victims of these modern day witch-hunts; the ones who are viewed as ‘other’, as enemy, will be lynched. They will be accused. They will have no way of escaping the law of their culture, of this bill, and they, innocent of these violent accusations, will still have no voice to speak out against the heinous inhumanity done to them.

For these reasons and others, accusations against witches should be outlawed. No innocent people should be allowed to fall through the cracks, and be subject to violence, abuse and criminality.

Any crimes such as Muthi murders, ritual killings and bodily mutilations should be dealt with under the Human Tissues Act, and Common Law. To allow these acts to be associated with witchcraft only criminalizes beliefs and practices, and does not deal with the criminal acts themselves through forensic investigation. Correct investigative measures need to be taken in order to condemn the perpetrators of the crimes, not the innocent victims of accusation.

With this Bill, we will be heading again toward the Dark Ages, the pre-enlightenment times, where all the weak, the elderly, the poor, the diseased, the ‘other’ were put on trial and condemned as witches.  As a Western witch with a voice, I have the ability to speak out against this bill. I will not stand for cultural definitions which allow for violent injustices to be done against fellow citizens. I will not stand for a repeat of the European witch trials. I will stand for the innocent, the weak, the marginalized, because as a Witch, I stand for Freedom.

A South African Pagan Witch

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