South African Pagan’s Rights Alliance fights against witch-hunts

15 July 2016 - 19:19 By Deneesha Pillay


No perpetrator of both the criminal use and sale of human body parts has ever self-identified themselves as a witch‚ the South African Pagan’s Rights Alliance (SAPRA) said on Friday. The Alliance‚ which held its annual general meeting this week‚ told TMG Digital that not only do those who do self-identify as witches condemn "muti murder" and other related criminal practices‚ they also found it "unfortunate" that the public incorrectly make a "connection between human mutilations and witchcraft as if it is a verifiable fact".Founding director of the alliance‚ Damon Leff‚ said despite the fact that the right to practice and promote pagan religions is a pre-existing constitutional guarantee for all South African pagans‚ many pagans still find it difficult to openly participate as pagans in society.“Those who self-identify as witches or wiccans will rarely openly identify as such to their employers or even families‚ for fear of being discriminated against‚” he said.One of the posts on the SAPRA website shares the names of victims of various witch-hunts in South Africa for the periods 2000 to 2005 and 2010 to 2015‚ reported by various media houses. “Many more witchcraft accusations and witch-hunts remain unreported. Refugees of witchcraft accusation receive little or no media coverage in South Africa‚” the post reads.In April last year‚ SowetanLIVE reported that police watched helplessly as angry residents a tortured a naked woman accused of being a witch in a village in Mpumalanga. In March 2015‚ TimesLIVE reported that an elderly man accused of witchcraft was murdered in Mandaba near Nkandla‚ KwaZulu-Natal.Leff said that the process of promoting factual information and advocating against hate speech‚ discrimination and violent witch-hunts will be a continuous and ongoing programme for SAPRA.“We ... have cooperated with several academics who lecture in Religious Studies across the country in order to provide accurate information on the many different beliefs and religious practices of modern pagans‚ and the ancient pagan religions that continue to inspire them‚” Leff said.Another key point on the agenda of the AGM was the successful appointment of Dr Detha van Niekerk as SAPRA’s Religious Marriage Officer Registrar.According to section 5 of the Civil Union Act‚ SAPRA nominates pagan religious marriage officers who may solemnise both same-sex and heterosexual marriages.SAPRA was the first South African pagan organisation to be granted this designation‚ and is currently only one of four pagan organisations to be granted this designation‚ Leff said.However‚ the founding director adds that although the process of nomination by SAPRA and appointment by Home Affairs has been fairly trouble-free‚ their marriage officers have‚ until recently‚ repeatedly encountered problems in registering Civil Union marriages‚ specifically for heterosexual couples‚ with local Home Affairs offices.“In almost every instance‚ local officials were not adequately informed about the Civil Union Act; most officials automatically assumed that only same-sex couples could be married under the Civil Union Act. Thankfully these cases were resolved through communication between SAPRA's Religious Marriage Officer Registrar and the Marriage Officers at the Tshwane Department of Home Affairs. Local officials have had to undergo additional training on the correct administration of the Civil Union Act‚” he said.Modern Paganism includes a few internationally well-known Pagan religions such as Druidry‚ Asatru‚ Kemeticism‚ Classical Roman and Greek religion‚ and fairly modern Western Magic Traditions such as Wicca (modern Witchcraft).“We find this Pagan religion to be the primary target for a lot of uninformed prejudice‚ hence most of our advocacy work focuses on this subject‚ whether promoting accurate information about Witchcraft (modern and pre-Christian)‚ or advocating against violent witch-hunts (which‚ ironically enough‚ do not target actual self-identified Witches).“Our primary advocacy has therefore focused on highlighting ongoing witch-hunts in South Africa through lobbying government‚ media and people generally‚” Leff added.

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