Contemporary witch-hunts in South Africa
Witch-hunts are an internationally recognised epidemic throughout Africa. Although witch-hunts have historically been viewed as gender specific, with a large percentage of victims still identified as elderly and solitary women, a 2009 report by Yaseen Ally entitled Witch Hunts In Modern South Africa: An Under-Represented Facet Of Gender-Based Violence (June 2009) shows that victims of witch-hunts include both women and men of all ages.
Published media reports highlight tragic human rights abuses arising as a result of witchcraft accusations. The true extent of witch-hunts in Africa (and elsewhere in the world) however has yet to be determined. Many incidences of witch-hunts go unreported and very few governments actually keep detailed statistics of such incidents.
Witch-hunts are largely perpetrated by individuals and groups who believe that misfortune is enabled through the agency of ‘a witch’. Such accusations are sometimes motivated through localized forms of religious extremism by practitioners of traditional African religions who believe that witchcraft is always the cause of misfortune, traditional healers (including diviners, herbalists, ‘witch-doctors’) who use various forms of divination to point out suspected witches, and charismatic revivalist Christian religious leaders (pastors and prophets) who use their prejudicial notions of witchcraft as a manifest form of satanic evil to encourage their followers to find (accuse) and convert suspected witches.
The victims do not identify themselves as Witches!
The words ‘witch’ and ‘witchcraft’ are used predominantly as an accusation throughout Africa, either to describe a number of clearly defined traditional religious practices that do not self-define as witchcraft, as well as a number of variable urban legends perpetuated by religious leaders and traditional healers to identify women, children and men who are not actual Witches.
In rare instances where alleged confessions of being a witch or practicing witchcraft are made by the accused, reported testimony is either irrational or coerced through torture or threat.
Belief is not evidence and accusation is not proof!
The ‘witchcraft’ most often referred to through accusation, allegation and harmful superstition, exists only in the minds of those who believe that witchcraft is the embodiment of evil and that witches are responsible for misfortune, disease, accident, natural disaster and death.
Victims have the right to be presumed innocent!
Since 2008 the South African Pagan Rights Alliance has repeatedly appealed to the South African Commission for Human Rights to encourage the South African government to:
a. halt the persecution of suspected or accused witches,
b. uphold and strengthen a culture of human rights for all equally,
c. respond appropriately and humanely to incidences of accusations of witchcraft,
d. make the eradication of violence against suspected witches an international priority,
e. train local police to manage witchcraft accusations and violent witch-hunts in a way that affirms the dignity and humanity of those accused of practising witchcraft,
f. create victim support units to facilitate reintegration and conciliation of those accused,
g. adopt comprehensive public education and awareness programmes aimed at eradicating the real causes of witchcraft accusations, and
h. reform legislation that currently seeks to suppress witchcraft or criminalize accused witches.
There can be no human culture without human rights for all!
The South African Human Rights Commission has declined to engage with the South African Pagan Rights Alliance and has refused to undertake any formal investigation into ongoing human rights abuses committed as a result of accusations of witchcraft and witch-hunts in South Africa.
Concerns raised by witchcraft accusations and witch-hunts in South Africa
Stakeholder Submission prepared by the South African Pagan Rights Alliance for the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities. (February 2013)