What are Witches going to do about the Press Ombudsman ?


Press Ombudsman Joe Thloloe

South African Press Ombudsman Joe Thloloe denies the right to dignity to an entire religious minority.

Has it once more become acceptable to use the prejudicial synonym ‘Jew’ for ‘stingy’ ? No, because we accept an automatic assumption that real Jews might be offended should they be stereotyped as miserly.

Sunday Tribune front page article entitled “Graveyard Monster: In the footsteps of the Welkom witch” 27/11/2011

The South African Press Ombudsman Joe Thloloe however is of the view that even in cases of non-fiction, it is permissible to portray a witch (any witch) as a murderer, in the South African media, whether or not the person so being portrayed is a real Witch.

In accordance with this view the Ombudsman has ruled that the Sunday Tribune has the right to call convicted murderer Charne van Heerden ‘the Welkom witch’, even though there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that she was or is a real Witch. [0]

Thloloe’s ruling is based, in part, on his tacit acceptance of an assumed common use meaning of the word ‘witch’. In his mind ‘a witch’ is without question a morally ambivalent individual quite capable of being assumed murderously dangerous to people around her.

What he fails to realize is that the stereotypical meaning he has embraced as literal common usage is actually the defamatory product of a careful preserved historical fabrication – a fiction.

Thloloe is unwittingly guilty of promoting prejudice against real Witches, based on nothing more than historical fantasy.

Real Witches, which he condescendingly calls “self-styled”, are regarded by Thloloe as attempting to use the office of the Ombudsman to proselytize their religion, not defend their collective right to dignity. According to the Press Ombudsman, any notion that actual Witches should wish to appeal against the defamatory stereotyping of witches in the South African media is ridiculous and can never merit anything but contemptuous scorn. [1]

“Witches in South Africa are members of a minority faith which has been much maligned and persecuted during the course of global history. For this reason, SAPRA finds the use of the term “witch” to describe a woman who murdered and dismembered a man to be an unacceptable slander to the actual practice of Witchcraft in South Africa. ”

Christa Martin, executive member of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA) who lodged a complaint against the Sunday Tribune’s headline.

Understand this decision within the larger societal context in which South African Witches find themselves, including frequent incidences of witch-hunts in virtually every province, and you’ll begin to understand the pervasive institutionalized bias that exists against witchcraft and actual Witches in this country. [2]

The South African media is enjoined by both state and industry to uphold commonly accepted ethical standards, to treat all people fairly and justly, [3] but institutional bias within the South African media against witchcraft easily excuses greedy exception to the rule when witches are used as a literary tool merely so that an editor and journalist can ridicule and judge a convicted murderer.

How do we educate journalists, editors and ombudsmen who hold a predetermined bias against witchcraft and Witches? When the South African media simply refuses to give the subject any serious coverage at all for fear of accidentally proselytizing the unwelcomed stereotype in the flesh, how does a religious minority make its voice heard ?

As long as ‘the Witch’ remains nothing more than a fantasy, a literary device of prejudice, a synonym to describe a depraved criminal, or a murderous accusation, real people who actually identify themselves as Witches will continue to be denied their right to dignity, equality and justice in South Africa.

What are you going to do about it ?



[0] Sunday Tribune front page article entitled “Graveyard Monster: In the footsteps of the Welkom witch” dated November 27 2011

[1] Press Ombudsman ruling (2009): Mr Damon Leff, Director of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance, vs Various Publications

[2] South African Pagan Rights Alliance NGO Stakeholder Submission  to the United Nations Officer of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Universal Periodic Review entitled ‘South African government ignores victims of witch-hunts’.

[3] South African Press Code

New press code released | 10 October, 2011


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7 Responses

  1. hedgewick says:

    I for one think that if someone wants to be in an industry where words and uses is a part of his work. Isn’t he/she suppose to be the one that is most watchfull of the english language and the meanings behind the words they use. It disgust me that a human being will show the same kind of ignorance that was shown in 12th century. Have the ignorant learnt nothing from science? Did they not listen in school even.if a word has to be used that potentially cause some conflict I would hope they had the intelligence to do enough reasearch on those words to support his statement. This sounds like another idiot that is in a position he is completely not qualified for. Its sad that society has come to this. Where ignorant people can’t keep comments/opinions to themselves. We don’t care what he/she thinks merely what is fact. Please journalists keep ur assumtions to urself. The community is no longer interested in what u think. If u can prove it make a statement or else keep it to urself. Its ignorance that keeps the community from growing and I for one feel a time soon will come where action must be taken. I agree with the above statement. Enough is enough. Its a poor reflection of the lack of intelligence and skill already scarring this beautiful country.

  2. Antoinette Keyser says:

    Much has been said around this issue. I don’t want to repeat here what I’ve said on other sites about it, since whatever how ever many of us SAY about it, it just seems to be completely futile. We are blatantly being ignored. I would merely like to answer the question.
    What ARE we as Witches going to DO about this and other similar atrocities? Since we are being ignored so blatantly, have been ignored for such a long time, don’t you think it’s about time we start taking ACTION? If other minority groups, eg gay people, can get together on an annual basis for public marches across the globe in order to demand that their RIGHT to dignity be respected, why not us? We have the same rights as any other religious group in this country. Why not stand on those rights, even if it means that we will have to be just a tad more assertive?
    Come on, Guys! No more silence! Enough is enough! We are a force to be reckoned with. Let’s show those toads what we are made of. Even if it means we have to turn them into very small little frogs (figuratively spoken, of course, lol!). Let’s once and for all put Witchcraft, and Paganism as a whole, back where it belongs! We have a Goddess who will support us all the way! Let’s stop hesitating! Let’s GO for it! )o(
    Antoinette Keyser

  3. willem says:

    It us a pitty that there is such ingnorant people making the asumption that all us “witches” is bad or evil but the day that that they have prayed on not getting what they whant they whant to then turn to us for help and then there is nothing wrong with us. Yes there is bad people in this life of us that we live in BUT there is allso plenty of GOOD poeple out there that makes their life work to do good to other doesnt matter if it is animal or human. So WHY WHY do they “the ignorant and un inform” whant to allways put us under the same banner there is a VERY VERY VERY BIG diference between good and evil it is the same thing in calling a white persone a black and a black person a white. Hell this is not that dificult just ge your facts strait that is all.

  4. Colleen says:

    Good question. What is the next step? Is there another body, or an appeals commission? Who watches the watchers in this case?

    Out of interest, just how does Mr Tholoe equate preventing biased reporting and discrimination against a group with proselytising? When, for example, I argue that Muslims cannot be stereotyped as radical extremists, I am certainly not promoting their religion in any way. I also had to laugh at “the ordinary meaning of the word witch”. Just because a word is commonly used in a certain context doesn’t make it correct – but then I’ve said plenty on this matter before.

    I think Mr Tholoe feels deeply uncomfortable about the fact that there are real people calling themselves witches and the only way to defend his prejudice is scorn.

    • admin says:

      The Ombudsman has refused to listen to this complaint and the complainants can therefore not appeal against his decision, without leave to, given by the Ombudsman himself.

  5. symi says:

    i am really upset about this. i’m a witch. i live a life in harmony with the earth, the elements, and mindful of karma, balance and fairness. i’m really tired of people who have no clue about things, just throwing names around.

    if you are going to be in a position of power, you need to be mindful of the road you walk, because the footprints you leave behind are watched.

    in unrelated news, if we’re all we’re cracked up to be – i’m not sure anyone should be speaking ill of witches. you never know what will be the retribution.

    le oops.

  1. Nov 30, 2011

    […] I Sydafrika har det i dagarna brutit ut en våldsam debatt i media angående användningen av ordet Häxa, och den ärevördige Sydafrikanske Domaren Joe Thloloe, mångårig jurist av facket, samt av Sydafrikanska Republikens Regering officiellt utsedd till The Press Ombudsman (Ja, det heter faktiskt så – det finns inget ord i det Engelska språket som motsvarar det svenska ”Ombudsman” och Engelskan måste därför importera det svenska konceptet, eftersom ingen motsvarighet finns i deras språk) har nu gripit in i ärendet, till alla parters fromma. 10 Oktober i år blev också den nationella lagstiftningen på området, The Press Code, vederbörligen reviderad. […]

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