Witch-hunts are illegal and must be condemned

Witch-hunts are common in Africa. Historically, they have been viewed as gender specific because a large number of the victims have been elderly, solitary women, although recent reports show that victims include both women and men of all ages. The frequent result of witchcraft accusations is tragic human rights abuses, because the victims are presumed guilty without undergoing a legal inquiry.

In January and February alone, there were five reported deaths after witchcraft accusations, two of them children. The true extent of witch-hunts has yet to be determined because many go unreported and few governments keep detailed statistics. They are often the work of family members or neighbours who believe that witches are responsible for misfortune, disease, accidents, natural disasters and death.

The “witches” do not identify themselves as such and the accusations are usually driven by religious extremism: practitioners of traditional African religions who believe witchcraft is always the cause of misfortune; traditional healers, including diviners, herbalists and “witchdoctors”, who use divination to point out suspected witches; and charismatic-revivalist Christian religious leaders who encourage their followers to expose the “satanic evil” of witchcraft.

The words witch and witchcraft are used in an accusatory, predominantly negative way. But they can describe clearly defined traditional practices that are not defined as witchcraft per se, as well as folk myths and superstitions. In rare cases in which there are confessions of being a witch or practising witchcraft, the reported testimony is either irrational or has been coerced by torture or threat. The “witchcraft” most often referred to in such accusations exists only in the minds of the accusers.

In 2008 the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (Sapra) launched a campaign — 30 days of advocacy against witch-hunts — under the banner of Touchstone Advocacy. 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 this annual campaign.


The alliance has called for human rights commissions internationally to encourage governments to halt the persecution of suspected or accused witches, uphold and strengthen a culture of human rights, respond appropriately and humanely to witch-hunt incidents and make the eradication of violence against suspected witches an international priority. They should train the police to manage witchcraft accusations and violent witch-hunts in a way that does not violate the rights of the accused, create victim support groups to facilitate reintegration and conciliation, adopt education and awareness programmes aimed at eradicating witchcraft accusations and reform legislation that suppresses witchcraft or criminalises accused witches.

In South Africa it is illegal to accuse anyone of witchcraft. During the 30-day campaign, which runs from March 29 to April 27, the alliance will be appealing to every­one to condemn witch-hunts. Human rights are for all, it says, including the victims of witch-hunts.

Damon Leff is the director of Sapra. For more information, go to: paganrightsalliance.org/30_days.html

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

2019: The ones who left us

From Uyinene Mrwetyana, Oliver Mtukudzi to Xolani Gwala, Mail & Guardian remembers those who have passed on

More battles ahead for domestic worker unions

Florence Sosiba, speaks to the Mail & Guardian about how important domestic workers are and exclusion in the COIDA

“Life has been good to me, considering where I come from” – Xolani Gwala

Just over a year ago, veteran radio presenter Xolani Gwala’s cancer was in remission. He spoke to the Mail & Guardian once he was back on air.

Kanya Cekeshe’s lawyer appeals decision not to grant him bail to the high court

Kanya Cekeshe’s legal team filed an urgent appeal at the Johannesburg high court on Tuesday against Monday’s judgment by magistrate Theunis Carstens.

Leader’s principal aim to build IFP

Gravitas: Velenkosini Hlabisa brings his experience to his new post as leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party.

Police Minister Bheke Cele addresses Jeppestown

Police minister Bheki Cele visited Jeppestown on Tuesday to speak to business owners and community leaders.
Advertising

New education policy on gender violence released

Universities and other higher education institutions have to develop ways of preventing or dealing with rape and other damaging behaviour

Cambridge Food Jozini: Pandemic or not, the price-gouging continues

The Competition Commission has fined Cambridge Food Jozini for hiking the price of its maize meal during April

Sekhukhune’s five-year battle for water back in court

The residents of five villages are calling for the district municipal manager to be arrested

Vaccine trial results due in December

If successful, it will then have to be manufactured and distributed
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday