The decriminalisation of 'harmless witchcraft' to be realised in the near future?

14 April 2019 - 00:00 By SIPOKAZI FOKAZI


For more than 40 years Damon Leff has identified himself as a witch practising herbalism and divination, a form of spirituality he uses to communicate with nature and his ancestors.
While his paganism is a religion, it leaves him on the wrong side of the Witchcraft Suppression Act, which remains on the statute book 62 years after it was enacted despite recommendations that it be replaced.
The act's constitutionality has been under investigation for five years by the SA Law Reform Commission, which recommended in 2016 that its criminalisation of even "harmless witchcraft" meant it should be repealed.
But this week the commission said justice minister Michael Masutha was unable to act because its investigation remained incomplete.
Commission secretary Nelson Matibe said staff shortages were to blame. While the commission had made preliminary findings and recommendations following complaints from the SA Pagan Rights Alliance and Traditional Healers Association, Matibe said the departure of the main investigator meant work on the final report was only expected to start in the middle of the year.
Leff, director of the Pagan Rights Alliance, said repeal of the act would remove the "stigma of criminalisation".
"While in practice pagans are not legally prevented from identifying as witches, nor from practising divination, existing law that criminalises anyone who identifies as a witch remains a cause for concern," he said.
"Pagan witches in this country have been openly practising our faiths since 2004. Although we have experienced, and continue to experience, religious discrimination . we have never been pursued by the police for practising our religion," he said.
In its submission to the commission, the SA Pagan Council acknowledged that witchcraft was associated with evil and criminal practices such as ritual killings, but it argued that its members were neither evil nor criminals.
The Traditional Healers Organisation wants the act replaced with new legislation that "addresses problems associated with witchcraft related to violence and provides clarity on the definition of witchcraft".
National co-ordinator Phephisile Maseko said the law was an "apartheid piece of legislation that was meant to demonise African religion and traditional healing".
Repealing it would destigmatise traditional healers, who were still frequently described as "witches, wizards, witchdoctors and sorcerers".
Maseko said: "We still want witchcraft acts such as muti killings, torture of humans and destabilisation of homes criminalised, but we should be wary of prosecuting people because they have a different belief system."Steve Mahlangu, spokesperson for the department of justice & constitutional development, said repeal of the act depended on feedback from the commission when it finished its investigation."The commission still has to consider all comments received from the public and prepare a final report together with the final draft bill to be submitted to the minister of justice for his consideration," he said.

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