Ignoring the Elephant

 

This past weekend lamp posts around Port Elizabeth bore posters with “POLICE ‘VAMPIRE’ UNIT RETURNS” emblazoned in bold print. A tacky headline worthy of any tabloid rag; or so one would think. However this was for, what I am told, is a leading journalistic paper for the Port Elizabeth area- The Weekend Post (under the flagship of PE The Herald). And if you thought the headline was sensationalized, then just wait until you read the body of the piece.

It is my understanding of journalistic writing, especially in the newspaper vein, that you stick to the facts – the basic formula of: who, what, when, where, why. There is no room in the average newspaper article for the journalist’s interpretation of the facts they gather. And if your information is from a quote, it should be stated as ‘said Joe Soap’ or ‘According to Joe Soap…’.

Something however went awry in the lead paragraph of The Weekend Post’s EC Police establish occult task team by John Harvey.

“Eastern Cape police have appointed three detectives to specialize in occult-related crime as part of a national drive by the SAPS to crack down on muti murders and other crimes- including the bizarre rape by a “tokoloshe spirit”- that may occur during the practicing of Satanism, witchcraft and even vampirism.”

There is no attribute to the source of information, so one must assume that the only other source of information for the lead paragraph must be the leaked SAPS memo itself.

“Investigating officers are invited to approach the trained individuals in their respective provinces if they need assistance or guidance with the investigation of an alleged harmful occult-related crime. Categories of crime can include, but are not limited to the following…allegations of rape by a tokoloshe spirit…” – Investigation of Harmful Occult-Related Crimes: Investigation Support Capacity, Page 2, 21 August 2012

What can be seen is that there is a vast difference between the lead paragraph and the only other source of information other than a direct quote. When covering the categories of information, nowhere in the leaked memo does it imply that crime is a possible by-product of Satanism, Witchcraft or Vampyric practices. The only possible attribution for the discriminatory statement is then left with the journalist and as the article was published in The Weekend Post, it is a discriminatory statement made by the newspaper too.

However the editor, when confronted with the above preferred to state “I read SAPRA’s objections and it very clear from the letter that the “categories of crimes” as was described in The Weekend Post stem from the police document and are not descriptions made up by the journalist, John Harvey.”

All attention is diverted from the elephant in the room with the placard around its neck that reads ‘discriminatory comment’. The editor claimed the statement in the lead paragraph came from the leaked memo, yet it is clear it did not. The only other explanation is that the discriminatory statement does indeed stem from the journalist.

In another paragraph of EC Police establish occult task force it is stated that “Religious leaders and academics in the province have welcomed the move as being “long overdue”, claiming occult-related crimes like muti killings, human sacrifice and initiation rituals involving rape are reaching critical levels.”

In correspondence between the journalist, John Harvey and Christina Engela, who is quoted in the last paragraph of the article, the ‘academic’ is said to be Dr Theodore Petrus. As per their correspondence John says of Dr Petrus’ opinion on the issue that “His view established impartiality to both sides of the debate.”

Contradictory considering that in the article the academic apparently welcomes the reformation of an Occult-Related Crimes Unit, and yet the journalist says that Dr Petrus’ view was impartial to both views. It should also be noted that no mention is made of the source for the alleged ‘fact’ that occult-related crimes are “reaching critical levels”– is this then the opinion of Dr Petrus or the anonymous “religious leaders”, and where are the statistical facts to back up this claim?

The article then goes on to claim that according to clergymen, “vampirism- drinking the blood of other humans and slaughtered pets for sexual arousal- is on the rise.” In a letter to the editor, Octarine Val Valur, Regent of the South African Vampyre Alliance, responds by saying that regarding the anonymous clergymen’s claim, “nothing could be further from the truth”.

Octarine goes on to explain that “Vampyres feed out of the belief that it is in order to maintain their precarious balance in terms of health – and that sex has nothing to do with it”. It begs the question why those accused were not given a chance to defend themselves if ethical journalism is intended to be fair, balanced and unbiased?

In another section of EC Police establish occult task team, Pastor James Lottering is quoted on his views on current alleged ‘occult activity’, along with another Christian clergyman, Barry Thomas. Once again in correspondence between John and Christina, John states the reason for Lottering being interviewed is that he worked on the previous Occult-Related Crime Unit and was therefore, “in a position to comment on this matter.” It should be noted that no reason is given for why yet another clergyman, Barry Thomas, was interviewed.

Together the two clergymen claim that they “have both reported “intensifying” occult activity in the past three years”. Yet again, no counter statement is given from actual occult practitioners themselves. Instead the statement is left as is; vague and open-ended. And given the general Christian position regarding non-Christian practices and beliefs (‘the occult’ in particular), it makes for prejudicial and biased sources for information on ‘the occult’.

Barry Thomas, of the First City Baptist Church in East London, is quoted as saying “In the early 1990s East London was known as the Satanism capital of South Africa. That died off now it appears to be back. What is most disturbing is that it is taking the form of vampirism.”

What is lacking, once again, is any credible information. Instead of facts, a biased Christian pastor is quoted alleging untested claims about the period of Satanic Panic perpetuated by the previous Occult-Related Crime Unit in the 1990s. But Barry’s claims do not stop there… “About two years ago I became aware of a coven of about 50 people practicing vampirism in Gonubee, where human and animal blood was being drunk. Many of these youngsters came to me after we discovered them. There are elder men, called lords, who oversee the gatherings and administer lessons to the youngsters.”

There is no verification of these claims, leading the reader to believe it must then be true. But once again one has to wonder at the degree of truth to these claims. If true, then where are the exsanguinated bodies that would draw media reports, or SPCA reports of exsanguinated animals, or even missing animals? And just as with the debunked claims of satanic ritual abuse of the 1980’s and early 1990’s in the U.S., the claims come from children. One has to wonder if these ‘youngsters’ came to Pastor Thomas willingly, and how they were guided in their alleged ‘confessions’.

The article then jumps back to the opinions of Lottering. “Lottering said it was imperative that the new unit initially focused on the former Ciskei and Transkei areas of the Eastern Cape to combat muti murders.”

A jump is made from wild claims of ‘vampirism’ and Satanism to “muti murders”; a jump that, to the average reader, appears that the two are linked. However any such implications could not be further from the truth. Satanism covers a broad theological base, however Wikipedia defines Satanism as “Satanism is a group of religions with diverse ideological and philosophical beliefs. Their shared features include symbolic association with, admiration for the character of, and even veneration of Satan or similar rebellious, promethean, and in their view liberating figures.”

According to Octarine Val Valur in modern Vampyre practices “There are two main kinds of Vampyres, psychic Vampyres and sanguine Vampyres. The psychic Vampyres (or psi-vamps) feed off prana, chi or life energy which they obtain from living sources via psychic means, similar to what you would see in practices such as Reiki or other energy-healing techniques. The sanguines (or sangs) require small regular feeds of blood, preferably human, and preferably still containing life energy. Sangs consume small amounts of blood which are donated voluntarily to them by consenting adults, most often within the confines of private relationships. Important to note, is that no harm is done to any donor, as this is contrary to our own strict guidelines and code of ethics.”

Now consider the above definitions when examining the definition of ‘muti murder’.  “A Medicine murder is the killing of a human being in order to excise body parts to use as medicine. It is not human sacrifice in a religious sense because the motivation is not the death of human, but the creation of an item or items from their corpus for use in traditional medicine.” It is clear that muti murders are in no way, shape or form related to Satanic or Vampyre practices as implied in EC Police establish occult task team.

Lottering is further quoted as saying “I counsel people every day and what is apparent is that witchcraft in the rural areas is filtering into the cities. There are of course cultural factors to consider but if you are killing humans for body parts to put spells on people that is demonic, both spiritually and physically”.

Again this is not an unbiased opinion; but it does display Lottering’s ineptitude as an individual, “in a position to comment on this matter,” as journalist John Harvey claimed him to be. As Lottering is someone who worked in the Occult-Related Crime Unit as a supposed ‘occult expert’, he should know there is a very clear distinction between criminal indigenous magical practices and the European Pagan religion of Witchcraft.

No distinction or contradictory statement is provided by the journalist to explain the difference between muti (medicine), muti murders and the constitutionally protected religion of Witchcraft. This leaves the reader with the impression that practitioners of witchcraft engage in murder for the purposes of harvesting body parts that will be used in harmful magical practices. In Lottering’s opinion, muti murders are “demonic”, meaning he believes they are of the Christian devil; a point that only further proves his bias.

Head of the previous Occult-Related Crime Unit, Kobus Jonker, is then reported to have provided members of the new Occult-Related Crime Unit with, “months of training”. This is debatable considering that according to the SAPS website, their Occult-Related Crime Investigators Course is taught over a period of five days. Kobus Jonker is quoted as claiming that “there were more of these cults cropping up every day”. From this it is now implied that not only are muti murders the result of ‘vampires’ and Satanists, but that the afore mentioned were organized into dangerous cults.

“The leaders don’t appear to be anything special, but they are highly charismatic. This draws in their followers, who are often lost in their lives. Initially they stick rigidly to the teachings of the Bible but then they begin to present themselves as messiah figures. This trend is developing at a lot of universities.”

According to Jonker these cults make use of the Christian Bible and essentially focus on Christian teachings. So one has to wonder, are they Christians, ‘vampires’ or Satanists? No details give this statement a basis in the realm of fact- another vague statement from a biased individual.

The article is concluded with a single quote from what so far, has been a one-sided story. Christina Engela from Port Elizabeth, a member of the South African Rights Alliance (SAPRA) and a human rights activist, is quoted as saying that the new ORCU will be a “big backward step” and that “These units will be influenced by Christian doctrine, which will lump pagans like me into the same group as Satanists and anybody they think will commit a crime. This will reinforce stereotypes and make people doubt themselves all over again”.

In a letter to the journalist, Christina said that she was disappointed by the finished article and that, thanks to the way in which she was portrayed, she regretted agreeing to the interview in the first place. Christina says that the article painted her as “ashamed to be a Pagan and a witch,” and that what was worse, the article implied that she had every reason to feel ashamed.

John responded to Christina’s concerns with a cursory sentence about being “saddened” by Christina’s disappointment in his article. He then goes on to lay the blame at copy length restrictions and sticks by his assertion that Jonker and Lottering were the best sources for quotes on the matter. What is lacking in his reply is any genuine concern for Christina’s views on the article, or an apology, or even an attempt at trying to understand her perspective.

Similar correspondence between the editor of The Herald, Heather Robertson, and Director of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance, Damon Leff, only further showed a lack of empathy. In a heated conversation on The Herald’s Facebook page, Heather stuck to her argument that any discriminatory or biased information in the article was direct reporting from interviews with the SAPS. While being careful to not make eye contact with the elephant in the room, she denied all claims that the article was unfair and biased in favor of the prejudicial opinions of Christian clergy. SAPRA was encouraged to rather take the matter up with the SAPS.

However, a new day has dawned and with it, an olive branch has been reached out by the writer of EC Police establish occult task team to SAPRA Director, Damon Leff. As of the writing of this piece, John has offered SAPRA space in The Herald’s The Weekend Post for an 800 word article regarding the new Occult-Related Crime mandate. According to John the published piece will be a part of a “public debate” on the subject and will also include SAPS summary. Given the way in which the subject was originally approached and handled, I can only hope that thanks to a general Pagan outcry to the original, its follow-up will be more fair and balanced.

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