THE ADVOCACY – Art for Human Rights
The Witch-hunt is a centuries old tool of prejudice against society, in particular women. It is a form of genocide that is bound neither by ethnicity or time and which continues to demand its victims across the world. Witchcraft accusations, hangings, stoning episodes, burnings, beatings, hackings, banishing and forced relocations are common types of brutality and violence women are still subjected to in rural communities of South Africa. All too often, with epidemic frequency as a matter of fact, the disempowered (old women, children and men) are subjected to brutal and abusive treatment at the hands of superstitious and angry mobs who wish to purge their community of the “evil” among them.
THE ADVOCACY ~ Art for Human Rights
On 15 March 2013, Morgause Fonteleve, Convener for the SAPC and CEO for SAPRA, addressed the CRL Commission and a body of UNISA students, at the NG Church Hall, and invited the community to attend the opening of the exhibition the following day at Caster Bridge, White River. She highlighted that the focus of the month long exhibit was on the violation of Human Rights, in particular the violation of the same in our country and in the province of Mpumalanga. The aim at promoting Justice and equity in our Country. She asked them to put aside the discussion of personal religious rights, culture and language and to delve deeper into a pressing matter, that of witchcraft accusations, which has reached epidemic proportions in our country and which is rife in the Province of Mpumalanga.
The Opening of THE ADVOCACY 16 March 2013
COMMUNITY BACKDROP TO EXHIBITION
“Culture is more than genetic inheritance; it includes shared experiences, language, world views, folkways, mores, as well as customs that differ an ethnicity from other people. Culture is edifying and gives a common identity to those held within its embrace. Violence against women is at “crisis levels” throughout the various regions of South Africa. Since 2008 the South African Pagan Rights Alliance has run a yearly 30 days Advocacy Campaign against Witch Hunts (27 March to 27 April) and the SAPC (as committed supporters of the Advocacy), have undertaken to coordinate an exhibition to highlight the problem and thereby make people aware of the negative impact of violence on women and children in particular.
Superstition is a belief in supernatural causality, that one event leads to the cause of another without any physical process linking the two events, such as portents, omens, goodness or wickedness dictated by the presence, degree or absence of skin pigmentation, etc. These beliefs contradict natural science (knowing) and have often destructive consequences that instead of exercising cohesive and up-building influences on the ethnicity to which it is particular, it divides and allows fear and suspicion to germinate; on that impetus, false accusations, harm and death operate.
The Witch-hunt is a centuries old tool of prejudice against society, in particular women and children. It is a form of genocide that is bound neither by ethnicity nor time and which continues to demand its victims (at crisis levels) in SA and across the world. The Witch is seen as a wholly malevolent archetypal figure, responsible for every known misfortune; sudden death, illness, barrenness, accident and poverty. By demonizing the witch, victims of accusation automatically lose their right to be presumed innocent. The socially learned fear of the witch, substitutes the rule of Justice and Reason for irrational accusations and subsequent act of violence and killings. Modern witch-hunts echo the brutal history of the European witch-hunts.
Every year, since 2008, SAPRA engages daily in the fight against the mentality of scapegoating and in a 30 Days Advocacy against Witch Hunts Campaign. This year the SAPC and SAPRA have coordinated an art exhibition entitled “The Advocacy”, as a preamble to the Campaign in order to highlight the need for raising awareness amongst the people. “ (Morgause Fonteleve)
Valerie Naidoo and CRL Commission Delegates
“The Advocacy” was a collaboration of several South African Artists, united against the violation of Human Rights in particular the brutality of witch hunts. It was a visual bid and appeal to the public, as well as Government, to engage in a drive for education programs geared towards addressing “scapegoating”, halting the abuse and persecutions, as well as working towards the upholding and strengthening of a culture nurtured in the lap of Human Rights and Gender Equality, notwithstanding as well the creation of support for victims and survivors of this form of social abuse.
In her opening speech, Morgause Fonteleve made an appeal to the relevant authorities, in the presence of the representatives of the CRL Commission.
“We appeal to the relevant authorities
• to acknowledge the extent of human rights abuses committed as a result of accusations of witchcraft in South Africa,
• to acknowledge the existence of living refugees of accusation,
• to adopt public education programs aimed at eradicating the causes for accusations, the training of police to manage “pointing out” and witch-hunts in a way that affirms the dignity of those falsely accused.
• We ask also that they create victim support units to facilitate access to justice, reintegration and conciliation for the accused currently forced to live in involuntary exile from their communities and loved ones.
Lastly, we would like to remind each and every one present, that the people accused are mostly the disempowered Mothers of our Nation. Those who raised us, loved us, fed us, schooled and supported us. The Law is there to deal with crime and criminals, let us not take the law into our hands. Say “NO” to witch hunts!”
This article shows but some of the works of art which many salient names in the South African Art Community contributed towards this noble cause. I wish to thank:
Majak Bredell, Judith Mason and Marlies who curated the exhibition with me, Tamar Mason, Isa Steyn, Vussi Beauchamp, Griet van der Meulen, Susanna Swart, Sybrand Wiechers, Lynette ten Kroonden, Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi. Colbert Mashile, Izanne Wiid, and Jahnni Wasserval.
Witchcraft Dialogues by Damon Leff
“Accusations of witchcraft are probably as old as belief in evil itself. Historical fabrications of “the witch‟ as a two-dimensional and wholly malevolent archetypal figure, responsible for every known misfortune; sudden death, illness, barrenness, accident and poverty, constitute a grievous crime against humanity and human rights. By demonizing the witch, victims of accusation of witchcraft automatically lose their right to be presumed innocent. The socially learned fear of the witch, based on nothing more than deeply entrenched prejudicial beliefs, substitutes the rule of justice and reason for irrational accusations and violence. Modern witch-hunts occur in almost every country in Africa but especially South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Kenya, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Tanzania and Sierra Leone, as well as in India, Papua New Guinea, Nepal, Cambodia, Thailand, Guatamala, Mexico, Bolivia, Haiti, state sponsored persecution in Saudi Arabia, and even in Poland, Georgia, Sweden and England.
These attacks echo contextually different but equally brutal historically documented European witch-hunts (in Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Lorraine, Austria, France, Norway, Sweden, Poland, Lithuania, Hungary, Russia, Spain, Portugal and Italy), and American witch-hunts throughout England’s Massachusetts Bay Colony (notably in Springfield and Salem) between 1645 and 1693.
Common threads of irrationally prejudicial ideas about witches and witchcraft flow through multiple times and places in human history, repeated from one generation to the next, altered by and within often diverse local folklores, urban legends, cultures and religions. These threads of prejudicial dialogue are the focus of this exhibit, entitled Witchcraft Dialogues. Within this context each of the three pieces of the exhibit, including a cracked beer pot with lid and two drinking bowls, constitute a portrayal of several different conversations.
The beer pot, as a keeper of cultural traditions, laws, customs, taboos and legends, is the source of communally agreed upon bias. The cracked beer pot, entitled Cognitive Dissonance, represents the repository of every irrationally prejudicial idea ever conceived about witchcraft and witches.
Each of the drinking / conversation bowls, entitled The Goat and Flying Brooms and Mamlambo and the Winnowing Basket, depicts two racially and culturally prevalent fantasies people generally held and now hold to be true about “witches”. These fantasies serve to inform the observer-participator about beliefs which still continue to motivate witch-hunts in historical Europe and present South Africa.” Damon Leff
God Maker; Witch Maker ~ Anthony Stakes
The Church once actively hunted down people and tortured them to death. In our country, the innocent are still targeted by the “uninformed” and superstitious (swept up by their influential spiritual and political leaders) and are dragged by them into the horrid reality of mass hysteria in the kangaroo courts. Branding political opponents, social rivals or neighbours as “witches” constitutes an abuse Human Rights.”
The Witches Hammer by Luke Martin
This is the best known and the most infamous of the witch-hunt manuals. Written in Latin, the Malleus Maleficarum was first submitted to the University of Cologne on May 9th, 1487. The Malleus, written by James Sprenger and Henry Kramer, remained in use for three hundred years and had tremendous influence in the witch trials in England and on the European Continent. It was used as a judicial case-book for the detection and persecution of witches, specifying rules of evidence and the canonical procedures by which suspected witches were tortured and put to death. Thousands of people (primarily women) were judicially murdered as a result of the procedures described in this book.
“The right to human dignity is based on the common assumption that all men and women have the right to have their “substantive essence” respected simply by virtue of their belonging to the human family. No man or woman should determine for another how that other should think or define themselves, their beliefs or religion. Every individual has the exclusive right to selfownership.” Damon Leff (October 2007)
The Pain of the Innocents by Daniela Leigh
“In our villages and townships in South Africa there is a great momentum which is started at times either by the local “Sangoma” or Pastor. When something negative happens in the village or to a family, there is a strong tendency to blame the occurrence on a person, to blame witchcraft and to claim that a certain individual is a witch and is putting curses on people in the village. This incites the whole village and community to violence, to the detriment of innocent women who are accused without cause or evidence. Many of these women are also elderly, who may suffer from Alzheimer or senile dementia and are viewed as “evil”. They are cast out of their communities and their huts are burned down. Children are sometimes abandoned, many of them are abused and there is lack of care as nobody is interested in helping these “witch children”. Fear of the irrational dictates this behaviour. Witch hunts are a Human Rights Issue, an issue the government is not paying attention to or taking steps to address or remedy. Our voice and our humble art is all we have to make the world aware of this suffering. So NO to witch-hunts!” Daniela Leigh
Christine Leigh (left) and Luke Martin (right)
San Dancer by Judith Mason
But in many societies the wise men and women of the culture have been more inclined to explain mysterious economic ruin, life-threatening illnesses, and tragic deaths as caused by malicious neighbours, colleagues, or relatives acting harmfully through psychic or evil supernatural means. In such societies unusual tragedy often results in a quest to determine which relative, neighbour, or colleague is really a witch/sorcerer — in short, a murderer. Once the label is attached, there are often serious consequences to the accused. Dhital Katmandu Post
Balance (detail) by Tamar Mason
Blood on Our Hands by Sonet Jordaan
Scapegoats are made this way. Through well-rehearsed and infallible “plots of framing”, the attention is diverted from the “real issue” and is focused on the object of fear; the witch. Indignation and mob temperament flares up and that which is dictated by the taboo is executed on the poor, disempowered and weak; cruelty, violence, persecution, eviction, injustice, a gruesome death are all part of the infringement of human rights and the sad and frightening reality for thousands in our Province and Country.
Colbert Mashile – Lithograph
“People are not born with prejudice against witches. The fear of witchcraft and hatred of witches is passed from one generation to another through story-telling, through hushed conversations between elders, through shared bowls of intoxicating brews, by people who never bother to question whether or not what they believe can ever be verified through demonstrable proof. Belief requires no evidence, just blind faith in the infallibility of what we think we know to be true, even in the face of evidence to the contrary.” Damon Leff
In Their Memory by Majak Bredell
Necklaced by Morgause Fonteleve
NecklacIng is the appalling method of killing which involves placing a petrol-filled tyre around the accused’s neck and shoulders and setting it ablaze. Witch-hunts are a violation of Human Rights.
Who Killed Cock Robin by Griet van der Meulen
This is a 500 years old poem of unknown origin. It is about a murder that has been committed without any reason or consequences. As with witchcraft accusations innocent victims killed for no reason at all.
Man Beast by Vusi Beauchamp
The title of the painting man beast reflects on perpetrators of violence against women and children. The wildebeest plays on the notion of wolves in sheep’s clothing. The man beast does not specifically implicate males only but reflects a society where abuse and silence often go hand in hand.
Visitors to the Exhibition
South African Artists, united in advocacy against the brutality of witch-hunts; a visual bid and appeal to the public, as well as Government, to engage in a drive for education programmes geared towards halting the abuse and persecutions, towards the upholding and strengthening of a culture of human rights and gender equality as well as creating and building the support for victims and survivors of this form of social abuse.
In 415, Alexandria, Egypt a mob of zealot monks dragged a woman from a carriage into a church where her flesh was scrapped off her bones. Who was she and what was her crime? She was Hypatia, one of the last great thinkers (philosophers), astronomers and mathematicians of Neo-Platonic Alexandria. Of her Socrates Scholasticus wrote : “Yet even she fell a victim to the political jealousy which at that time prevailed. For as she had frequent interviews with Orestes, it was calumniously reported among the Christian populace, that it was she who prevented Orestes from being reconciled to the bishop. Some of them therefore, hurried away by a fierce and bigoted zeal, whose ringleader was a reader named Peter, waylaid her returning home, and dragging her from her carriage, they took her to the church called Caesareum, where they completely stripped her, and then murdered her with tiles. After tearing her body in pieces, they took her mangled limbs to a place called Cinaron, and there burnt them.”
On 2 March 2010 Yalezwa Phulwana (22) of the Western Cape and her 2 year old daughter Liyema died in hospital from burns after their home was set alight. Yalezwa’s mother, Nonjengezinye Matwa, was also severely burned and had to be hospitalised. She was accused of being a witch. Let us remember their names and let this horrid roll call of ignorance and bigotry end. Let your Art lend voice to the Unheard Victims.
FINAL WORD OF THANKS
A special thank you to all the amateur artists who contributed to the exhibition, Sam Jagger and Vibes from MPOWER FM for the interviews and promotion on air of The Advocacy as well as S.A. Principe for the huge efforts during installation and final removal of the art pieces.
For more information on Touchstone Advocacy and the ’30 days of advocacy against witch-hunts’ visit ADVOCACY AGAINST WITCH-HUNTS.
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