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Warriors Against Witch Hunts: An Interview with Damon Leff

I’m talking today with Damon Leff, the director of SAPRA and International Coordinator of Touchstone Advocacy, a group that fights against witch-hunts in Africa. The Facebook Witch Burning pages mentioned in the linked articles originated in Africa, where many accused of witchcraft die brutal, horrifying deaths by stoning and burning.

HF: Recently Witches and Pagans and the Wild Hunt featured articles on Facebook pages that advocated witch hunting. In many western countries, Pagans face harassment for their beliefs, but their lives are (usually) not endangered. How does this differ in African countries? Are there other countries where Pagans’ lives are threatened for their beliefs or practices?

DL: In South Africa and other African countries generally, accusations of witchcraft and violent witch-hunts are an almost daily occurrence. The victims of accusation are however not actual or real Witches at all, and none of the victims have ever self-identified as Pagan or pagan. The victims of accusation and human rights abuses who survive have never self-identified as Witches. This holds true for every country in Africa.

Actual Pagan Witches in South Africa, the majority of whom are still Caucasian, have not to my knowledge ever experienced witch-hunts and are not subjected to the same level of hysterical accusation we find amongst largely black communities. But the underlying mechanisms that fuel witch-hunts do result in prejudice against self-identifying Witches. This kind of prejudice manifests in non-violent ways as discrimination in the work-place, bias against parties in custody battles who identify as Pagans, hostility and suspicion against children who identify as Pagans in public schools.

These cases are however isolated and do not occur nearly as frequently as witch-hunts against ordinary citizens.

I am not aware of a public movement of self-identifying Pagans in any other African country.

Despite the fact that we are not directly the victims of witch-hunts, actual Witches remain alarmed at both the frequency and violence of witch-hunts occurring in our own country. This is one of the reasons that SAPRA initiated its advocacy against witch-hunts.

HF: What can the international Pagan community do to aid in ending witch hunts and violence against witchcraft?

DL: At the moment we have an international petition addressed to the Parliament of South Africa, the South African Human Rights Commission and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (who happens to be a South Africa) and we always need more signatures.

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Stop_Witch_Hunts/

This advocacy campaign depends on information sharing and so I would encourage anyone willing to lend a hand to read our advocacy webpage and to share the information with others in every form and format. During every annual 30 day event we encourage supporters of the campaign to blog about ongoing witch-hunts and this campaign, to educate religious leaders with whom they may come in contact, to share the information we provide on witch-hunts with others. Much of the advocacy work we do involves influencing political decision makers to act - hence the petition which formed part of 2013's event.

HF: Is there anything else you'd like to share with W&P readers?

DL: If you would share the three important links to facilitate access to information that would be great. They are appended to the public appeal to the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions. There has been very little support for advocacy against witch-hunts from non-Pagan communities and religious leaders and we are hoping to change that before next year's 30 day campaign (March 29 to April 27).

Here's a copy...

Dear Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions.

I would like to take this opportunity to appeal to the members of the CPWR to support our advocacy against witch-hunts in South Africa and globally.

Please review the evidence here:

Touchstone Advocacy against witch-hunts: http://www.paganrightsalliance.org/advocacy/

Remember their Names - Victims of witch-hunts in South Africa 2000 to 2013: http://www.paganrightsalliance.org/remember-their-names/

Witch-hunts in South Africa (audio interview): http://www.paganrightsalliance.org/witch-hunts-in-south-africa/

Yours Sincerely,

Damon Leff

Director: South African Pagan Rights Alliance - SAPRA
International Coordinator: Touchstone Advocacy

Advocacy against witch-hunts | South African Pagan Rights Alliance: www.paganrightsalliance.org

The 30 days of advocacy against witch-hunts campaign was launched in March 2008 under the banner of Touchstone Advocacy, in response to ongoing accusations of witchcraft and brutal witch-hunts.

DL: I appreciate your covering this issue for your article. Thank you.

HF: Thank you so much for taking time to share this information with the Pagan community.

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Lokean nun, writer, swamp witch. Heather is a Pagan monastic, writer, editor, and mother. She has written and edited for a variety of publications and social media, including science journals, romance novels, and technology blogs. She also holds degrees in education and speech-language pathology, and has a passion for historical linguistics.

Comments

  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor Tuesday, 17 September 2013

    This is very important stuff. Much more important than whether individual contributors to W&P decide to withdraw their blogs due to real or imagined slights. THIS is about life or death.

  • Damon Leff
    Damon Leff Wednesday, 18 September 2013

    Thank you Heather.

  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard Monday, 23 September 2013

    This work is so important. Thanks for interviewing one of my heroes.

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