Thursday, July 26, 2007
I RECEIVED THIS EXCELLENT RESPONSE TO MY BLOG ON THE WITCHCRAFT SUPPRESSION ACT IN SOUTH AFRICA. It explains more about what is happening and why. It is still important that governments not lump all types of thoughts and practices into one generic category. The results often have unforseen consequences.
I'm a long-time Wicca-type witch with friends in South Africa. While I appreciate your sympathy and support, your opening question "What harm has the Pagan faith ever done?" makes me believe that you don’t fully understand what the issue is about.
The South African government are not talking about Euro-centric NeoPaganism as you and I understand it. They are talking about Tribal practices native to their area, specifically, native customs rooted in the belief that *without exception* all ill-fortune is caused by 'black magic.' There are practitioners there who, for a fee, will identify the so-called witch who caused your bad luck. Most often this will turn out to be a solitary old person, a single woman, and more and more often as the AIDS epidemic creates a generation of orphans, a child: in other words, people who will not be missed. The perceived 'witch' is then not just killed but horrifically murdered, as the folk belief also says that more violent the death of the 'witch' the more firmly the 'curse' will be broken. The bloodshed is wide-spread and is a law enforcement problem on the same magnitude as, say, the gangs are in L.A.
The idea behind the Anti Witchcraft Law is that by outlawing all forms of witchcraft equally they will eliminate the attacks both by and on 'witches.' It's perhaps the single most naïve and ill-considered piece of legislation in the last 400 years. Not only that, but the legislators who dreamed it up had no idea that there were EuroPagan-style Witches in South Africa who would abject. Now they're talking about ways to stop the traditional practices causing all the bloodshed while wording the law in such a way as to exempt the EuroPagans. This approach would create the perception, among a general populace to whom the very word 'witch' is frightening, that white people's witchcraft is permitted but black people's is against the law. Given how recently South Africa broke the chains of Apartheid, this is an extremely unwise direction for its government to be moving.
It seems to me that a great part of the problem is the use of the word 'witchcraft.' The Native practices of black magic, 'witch-finding' and curse-breaking all have their own names in the various Tribal dialects. The Europeans who colonized Africa and translated its many languages mistakenly lumped them all together as 'witchcraft' or its cognates in Dutch, German, French, etc. Any law attempting to stop the current witch hysteria needs to address the specific practices it wishes to ban by their correct names.
In the end, though, such a law no matter how it is worded would be pointless and possibly more harmful than the ills it tries to redress. You cannot make laws against beliefs, you have to re-educate the people. That takes at least a generation. In the meantime, there are laws against murder and attempted murder; they should be enforced.