UPDATE: Project 135 Review of Act 3 of 1957
The following correspondence has been submitted to the Department for Justice and Constitutional Development.
Minister for Justice and Constitutional Development
Honourable Minister Mr. Ronald Lamola
Deputy Minister for Justice and Constitutional Development
Honourable Deputy Minister Mr. John Jeffery
This Alliance requested the South African Law Reform Commission to review the Witchcraft Suppression Act 3 of 1957, in February 2007.
In January 2009 the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released a working report on human rights abuses committed as a result of witchcraft accusations entitled ‘New Issues In Refugee Research Research Paper No. 169 Witchcraft allegations, refugee protection and human rights: a review of the evidence’. I quote from Paper 169 – “An extensive literature review of journal articles, UNHCR internal documents and newspapers has shown that witchcraft accusations lead to violence and persecution in locations throughout the world. Protection concerns from witchcraft allegations can occur at home and also impact individuals throughout the cycle of displacement. Witchcraft-related violence may manifest as domestic violence, child abuse, or mob justice. […] UNHCR and governments need to be prepared to apply refugee law to claims that are based on witchcraft. By being aware that the phenomenon of witch persecution is still very much alive, those in the refugee field may be better prepared to pre-empt or respond to the associated violence and provide protection as needed.”
Project 135: The Review of Witchcraft Suppression Legislation, was approved by the then Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Mr J Radebe, in September 2010.
In March 2011 the South African Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities publicly announced its support for the South African Pagan Rights Alliance’s annual 30 day campaign against witch-hunts.
In November 2011 this Alliance submitted a Stakeholder Submission to the U.N. OHCHR Universal Periodic Review – Thirteenth Session of the Working Group on the UPR (21 May – 4 June 2012) in which this Alliance detailed ongoing human rights abuses committed by ordinary citizens aganst innocent citizens accused of “witchcraft”.
In January 2012 the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities publicly condemned “the ongoing violent victimization and the killing of elderly persons labelled as witches” and called on Traditional leaders, community councils and government departments to “assist in deepening peace, friendship, tolerance and respect for human dignity and communal cohesion among all the people of South Africa in pursuit of social justice and equality, irrespective of suspicions that would not be proven in the court of law.”
In it’s Issue Paper of 19 January 2016, the Commission concluded that:
a) the Witchcraft Suppression Act’s prohibition of identifying as a witch and professing knowledge of witchcraft is unconstitutional, and
b) the Act’s prohibition of engaging in divination is unconstitutional.
The United Nations Human Rights Council hosted the very first two day workshop on witchcraft-related human rights violations in Geneva, Switzerland, on 21 and 22 September. The South African Pagan Rights Alliance was invited to attend this event. The workshop brought together over a hundred U.N. experts, academics and members of civil society from across the world, to discuss violence associated with beliefs and practices associated with witchcraft and sorcery.
In 2018 the South African Law Reform Commission, then Principal State Law Adviser Mr Willie van Vuuren informed this Alliance that the finalisation of Project 135 would be delayed indefinitely due to “staff shortages and attention to other priority projects”.
In June 2021 the United Nations Human Rights Council’s draft resolution 47 entitled “Elimination of harmful practices related to accusations of witchcraft and ritual attacks” finally, although indirectly only, acknowledges that Witchcraft is not the mischief requiring regulation or prohibition. The draft correctly identifies the true harm requiring remedy; the human rights abuses which flow from accusations of witchcraft.
Current Status of Project 135
This Alliance has been informed by the SALRC’s Principal State Law Adviser, Mr Pierre van Wyk, that no further attention has been given to Project 135.
Honourable Minister, the finalisation of the review of Project 135 constitutes a regretable dereliction.
This Alliance must therefore draw your attention to point 6 of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s draft resolution 47:
“States should carefully distinguish between harmful practices amounting to human rights violations related to accusations of witchcraft and ritual attacks, and the lawful and legitimate exercise of different kinds of religion or beliefs, in order to preserve the right to freely manifest a religion or a belief, individually or in a community with others, including for persons belonging to religious minorities”.
This clause affirms the right of South African citizens who identify as Witches to freedom of belief and religion, a right already Constitutionally guaranteed to us by South African law.
This Alliance trusts that international consensus on this matter will persuade the honourable Minister, and the South African Law Reform Commission, to revisit it’s hesitancy in recommending that the Legislature set aside the Witchcraft Suppression Act as clearly inconsistent with both Constitutional and International law, without further delay.
SAPRA – 2 August 2021