Pagan, in Africa: African Pagans and Pagan Faiths

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Witches and the Law

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

You might have seen recent news from South Africa about the Witchcraft Suppression Act (Act 3) currently under review by the South African Law Reform Commission. After 8 years of deliberation between the Commission, Witches, Pagans and Traditional Healers, the Commission has found that certain provisions of Act 3 contravene the South African Bill of Rights and the Act, a relic of a former colonial age, is unconstitutional.

In February 2007, as director of the SA Pagan Rights Alliance, I initiated an appeal against Act 3 on the grounds that it criminalized an already constitutionally protected religious minority (Witches and Wiccans). In 2008 my appeal for review was supported by the SA Pagan Council and the Traditional Healers Organization.

The new Issue Paper released by the Commission has confirmed that the legislated prohibition against identifying as a Witch and professing knowledge of Witchcraft is unconstitutional. This is good news for Pagans who practice Witchcraft as a religion or spiritual belief system.

However, in its attempt to appease those who seek to continue to make accusations of alleged harmful witchcraft practices, including Traditional Healers who have been implicated in the past for making and confirming accusations of witchcraft against alleged "witches", the Commission is now proposing a draft Bill that will, in effect, legally enable accusations of witchcraft.

The proposed 'Prohibition of Harmful Practices Associated with Witchcraft Beliefs Bill' defines "harmful witchcraft" practices as " 'Harmful witchcraft' means the intentional or purported use of non-natural or supernatural means (whether that involves the use of physical elements or not) to threaten, or to cause, (i) Death or injury to or disease or disability to any person; or  (ii) Destruction or loss of or damage to property of any description; or (iii) Utilizes belief and particular practices associated with harmful witchcraft to instill psychological distress or terror. "

By giving weight to fundamentally un-provable beliefs about alleged supernatural means, the Commission is inadvertently confirming to those who make accusations of witchcraft against others that "death, injury, disease, disability, and destruction to property"  can indeed be caused by Witches, without Witches having to employ actual provable criminal acts. This contradicts the intent of the Commission to seek to prevent accusations of witchcraft and violent witch-hunts.

Whilst certain crimes may indeed be motivated by belief, those crimes identified in the Commission's definition of alleged "harmful witchcraft" practices, specifically, intimidation with the intent to cause psychological distress or terror, may be committed by a member of any (or no) religious faith. Indeed, there is sufficient evidence to show that some Christians and Traditional Healers have in the past attempted to justify their criminal acts by appealing to their beliefs as motivation for such acts. The Commission must therefore show why legislation is only required to punish alleged harmful "witchcraft" practices, but not alleged harmful Christian of African religion practices.

South African courts have generally given little or no weight to such professed religious motivations for the commission of criminal acts, as the SALRC's Issue Paper itself has already confirmed. In the absence of leading physical evidence of criminal acts, evidence interpretation when dealing with "witchcraft", is usually if not always based on beliefs about, rather than actual demonstrable evidence of actual provable harm.

The Commission further seeks to define "harmful witchcraft" as involving the "intentional or purported use of non-natural or supernatural means". It must be noted that beliefs, or purported beliefs, about non-natural or supernatural means do not constitute demonstrable evidence of such means, and at best, amount to untested fantasy in terms of the law of evidence. Beliefs about supernatural malevolence cannot be tested by evidentiary rules.

If the Commission seeks to reinforce non-provable beliefs about alleged supernaturally created harm, it is also in effect, seeking to legally enshrine prejudicial beliefs and harmful stereotypes about Witches and Witchcraft. This would contradict the Commission's stated intent to respect the right of Witches to practice their faith without prejudice by the State.

The Commission has already confirmed that the application of the terms witchcraft and witch in Act 3 to traditional African religion and its practitioners by the drafters of said Act, constitutes an historically inaccurate misnomer. Traditional African religion is not Witchcraft, and traditional practitioners (including those found guilty of crimes such as muthi murder and the illegal trade in human body parts) do not self-identify as Witches. It would therefore be inaccurate to identify alleged harmful practices which originate from practitioners of traditional African religion, as "witchcraft" practices.

The South African Pagan Council has started an international petition against the proposed Bill in order to prevent the legalization of accusations of witchcraft. I would like to appeal to everyone, irrespective of your personal faith or country of origin, to support South African Witches by signing the petition against proposed legislation that will enable accusations of witchcraft.


For more information read the following articles and press releases:

Press Releases

Update: Review of Witchcraft Suppression Act

SALRC finds Witchcraft Suppression Act unconstitutional

SAPRA comment on and objection to SA Law Reform Commission Discussion Paper 139, Project 135.

Objection by the South African Pagan Council to proposed draft Prohibition of Harmful Practices Associated with Witchcraft Beliefs Bill

REMEMBER THEIR NAMES – Victims of witch-hunts in South Africa 2000 to 2015


South Africa’s Witchcraft Suppression Act Ruled Unconstitutional

by Terence P. Ward

Women, Witchcraft and the Struggle Against Abuse

by Heather Greene

Victims of witch-hunts in South Africa are ignored

by Damon Leff

Last modified on
Damon Leff, a Witch - animist and pantheist, is a South African human rights activist / advocate, writer, editor and ceramic artist. He is the owner of and editor-in-chief at Penton Independent Alternative Media (since 1995), a founding member and director of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance, the current managing researcher of Touchstone Advocacy against witch-hunts, a founding executive member of the South African Pagan Council, and owner of MNRVA Pottery. His wish list includes a Bachelor of Laws(LLB). He lives and works on a small-holding in the southern Cape with his life partner Louwrins, two greyhounds, two cats, several chickens and a multitude of healthy and productive Cape honey bees.  


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