Occultists challenge Occult-related crime unit’s legitimacy

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Occultists in South Africa, including Witches, Pagans and Satanists, are alarmed by news that the South African Police Services will be reconstituting ‘Occult-related crime’ units, and with good reason. The investigative mandate for the establishment of new provincial Occult-related Crime Units (ORC), in particular certain ‘categories of crime’ listed in a recently leaked SAPS Investigation support capacity memorandum, contradict internationally recognized jurisprudence in the identification and verification of demonstrable evidence. The law requires that evidence must not be based on opinion, belief or untested hearsay, but on provable facts alone.

The SAPS memorandum states “For a crime to be considered a harmful occult-related crime, the elements of legality, conduct and unlawfulness and culpability have to be present and the motive must be rooted in the supernatural.” The Orc’s detectives will, according to the SAPS memorandum, be required to investigate allegations of spectral evidence, including spiritual intimidation, astral coercion and curses intended to cause harm, as well as allegations of rape by tokoloshe spirits and other paranormal phenomena.

Spectral evidence, or evidence based on dreams and visions, motivated historically documented witch-hunts in Europe between 1300 and 1600 and in America, most notably Salem Massachusetts, between 1600 and 1700. In South Africa today violent witch-hunts are often preceded by accusations of spectral evidence alone. A belief in the supernatural agency of a non-corporeal entity (spirit, tokoloshe, fairy, demon, God) cannot however be submitted as evidence of anything other than faith, and spectral evidence is certainly nothing more than a fervently held belief based on nothing more than oneiric imagination.

The SAPS definition of ‘Occult-related crime’ as “…any human conduct that constitutes any legally recognized crime, the modus operandi of which relates to or emanates primarily from any belief or seeming belief in the occult, witchcraft, satanism, mysticism, magic, esotericism and the like…” is itself constructed from and dependent on a prejudicial world-view in which the term ‘occult’ has incorrectly been used as a synonym for clandestine conspiracy and criminality. This world-view is not based on any verifiable body of evidence that proves that Witches, Satanists, Mystics, Magicians or anyone engaged in esoteric religious practices are more likely to commit criminal acts than Christians or adherents of Traditional African religions. Nevertheless, popular bias against clearly identified and constitutionally protected minority religions, including Witchcraft and Satanism, has been institutionalized in law through the Witchcraft Suppression Act (Act 3 of 1957) and the South African Police Services occult investigation mandate, since the ORC’s first creation in 1992.

Categories for ORC investigation include alleged but unproven offences relating to Witchcraft (identified incorrectly as “black magic” by the SAPS), Satanism, Voodoo and vampirism (not a religion), including suicide where alleged evidence of occult involvement is believed to be present, animal mutilation and sacrifice, human sacrifice, and the interpretation of alleged occult signatures and graffiti at crime scenes. Allegations of animal and human sacrifice by citizens who identify as Satanists, Witches or Vampires have been and continue to be exaggerated by ex-detectives and founders of the ORC. No statistical evidence exists to support these allegations. Whilst it is evident that any religious ideology may hypothetically provide motivation to the criminally insane in the perpetration of such a crime, no religious minority (including Satanists and Witches) in this country advocates or encourages human sacrifice as a religious obligation. Despite evidence to the contrary, both the SAPS and the media continue to allege incorrectly that human mutilations committed by criminals for the express purpose of harvesting human body parts for sale to traditional healers, are motivated by a belief in or the practice of witchcraft. Traditional healers do not identify as Witches and therefore do not practice Witchcraft.

Newly trained detectives of regional occult crime units will be encouraged to consult with former members of the original ORC unit in their respective provinces. Many of these former ORC detectives now independently pursue careers in evangelical Christian ministries against the Occult, Witchcraft, Satanism, and in ‘Spiritual-warfare’ ministries targeted specifically at Witches and Satanists. Consultations with such persons will introduce highly subjective religious bias and prejudicial reasoning into investigations which should remain rationally objective.

This newly envisioned scope of investigation must be viewed with suspicion and be of concern to anyone engaged in the ethical practice of Witchcraft, Traditional African religion, and other Occult spiritualities and religions. Given the already evident bias expressed by ex-members of ORC and new members of provincial Religious Crimes Units against Witchcraft, the new mandate potentially threatens religious minorities who may be scapegoated on the basis of prejudicial belief alone.

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 This article was originally published in the Port Elizabeth Herald’s Weekend Post on 29 September 2012.

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