Interview with Mja Principe
Mja Principe is a founding member and Convener of the South African Pagan Council. I interview her about the South African Law Reform Commission’s review of the Witchcraft Suppression Act and the newly proposed Prohibition of Harmful Practices Associated with Witchcraft Beliefs Bill.
Q. What do you think of the SALRC’s proposed Prohibition of Harmful Practices Associated with Witchcraft Beliefs Bill?
Mja Principe: I am pleased that the old colonial Act is being abolished, but feel that the replacement Bill now in discussion, will catapult us into a further Dark Age of legalized accusations and the gradual erosion of traditional customs, cultural ways and the rights of religious minorities like self-identified Witches.
Q. Do you think new legislation is required to deal with muthi murder?
Mja Principe: I don’t understand why those reforming the Law insist on attaching adjectives to crimes. Is murder not just simply murder? And are violence and mutilations not simply violence and mutilations? The Human Tissues Act is there to punish those trafficking in human body parts, and any form of assault, incitement to violence etc. can and should be addressed by common law and the provisions of our country’s Judiciary System.
Q. Clearly SALRC believes that muthi murders do have something to do with witchcraft. Does muthi murder have anything to do with modern Witchcraft?
Mja Principe: Not at all. Modern Witchcraft is a religion and therefore protected under our Constitution. The words “witch” and “witchcraft” should therefore not appear in legislation in relation to muthi murders, for it is a misnomer and prejudicial towards those who self-define as Witches. It furthermore opens the door to continued hunts of the disempowered, elderly, sickly, suspected of being involved in harmful African magic, but who are simply scapegoats for those actually busy with the harvest and sale of body parts used in the making of “strong medicine”.
Q. How do you think ‘harmful supernatural witchcraft acts’ are going to be proven?
Mja Principe: How can anything which is not tangible, which cannot be proven or corroborated due to lack of evidence and its own very ephemeral nature, be used in a Court of Law? People are going to accuse on suspicion and in the face of lack of evidence people’s judgment will be clouded with fear, making it so that the innocent will continue to be hunted, ostracized and killed.
Q. Do you think this Bill will encourage accusations of witchcraft?
Mja Principe: Most certainly. How can one possibly curb witch-hunts by making witchcraft accusations legal? It just makes no sense! Such legislation would be an incitement to violence and therefore, in the first place illegal. It would also give those in charge the right to accuse on mere suspicion and without proper evidence. As you, yourself said, Damon, “you cannot prevent witch-hunts by legalizing accusations of witchcraft”.
Q. Do you think new legislation should be drafted to prevent accusations of witchcraft?
Mja Principe: Why go to the trouble and expense of doing that, when Common Law is already there to address all forms of crime?
Q. Are Pagan Witches and Traditional Healers ever going to be able to reconcile their differences on the question of witchcraft?
Mja Principe: Not unless they both focus on the Human Rights issues at stake and take to heart the matter that, although customs, religion and traditions should never be penalised, that affording organisations, groups, bodies, anti-constitutional misnomers within the legislation, will only lead to abuse of power, further violence, mutilations and perpetuate the crimes said legislation is supposed to discourage. Our country’s laws are more than adequate and should be properly enforced.
If the above is accomplished then I see no reason why Traditional Healers and Pagan Witches cannot co–exist in a climate of acceptance and mutual respect.