/ 26 February 2010

Cauldron boils in witchy word war

Traditional healers and modern pagans at odds about definition.

The cauldron is bubbling and the spell-books are being frantically thumbed after the national coordinator of the Traditional Healers’ Organisation, Phepsile Maseko, blamed muti murders on “heartless witches”.

“Your public allegation against witches is demonstrably false, defamatory and objectionable to real witches, who are not guilty of that which you have, on several occasions, publicly accused us of,” said an angry Damon Leff, director of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (Sapra), in a letter to Maseko.

Revealing that of a total of 901 cases of corpse mutilation in South Africa last year, Limpopo accounted for 350 and Mpumalanga for 210, Maseko had asked: “How could a healer use body parts or remove somebody’s body parts while the person is still alive? That means you are a witch, not a healer.”

Leff argued that the accusations reinforced, without evidence, “prejudicial stereotypes that serve to encourage further witch-hunts”. He said: “Your false and vexatious allegations against witches — may be regarded, to the extent to which such allegations may harm the reputations of real witches, as defamatory.”

Sapra did not deny that men, women and children across Africa suffered “brutal mutilations at the hands of criminals who harvest human body parts for sale”.

But local witches and wiccans had issued a statement last month condemning muti murders and the illegal trade in human body parts for medicine and magic. South African witches did not participate in such criminal activities, Leff said.

The statement was supported by the South African Pagan Council, Clan of Kheper Temple, Clan of Mafdet, Lunaguardia, Clan Ysgithyrwyn, The Grove, Pagan Freedom Day Movement, Penton Pagan Magazine, Pagan Federation International South Africa, Pretoria Pagan Social Group, Dream Weaver Pagan Community, Celestine Circle, Temple of the Midnight Sun, Temple of the Celestial Paths and other non-aligned individuals.

Sapra threatened to take the matter to the Human Rights Commission.

But Maseko was unrepentant this week, saying: “Let’s be honest here — a witch is a witch and everybody in the country knows that.

“Publicly calling yourself a witch in South Africa smacks of white privilege. In a village or township, you’d be dead even before completing your proclamation. Sapra must accept that we speak different languages and live in different areas,” she said. — African Eye News Service