Stop Witch Hunts in South Africa: Interview with Morgause Fonteléve
Morgause Fonteléve, is a Pagan and human rights activist in South Africa. She is CEO of the South Africa Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA) and Convener of the South African Pagan Council. She is also national coordinator for Pagan Freedom Day. She is a regular columnist for Penton Independent Pagan Media and a writer for Free Pagan Literature. We will be focusing mostly on the campaign to end Witch Hunts in South Africa.
Christopher: Why is it necessary to be an activist, be it in South Africa or elsewhere?
Morgause: Spirituality is punctuated by compassion and compassion expresses itself through activism. If the rights of every human being are not being protected, if an exception is made anywhere, in the name of whatever it is that someone may see fit, then the rights of everybody else are at stake. Human Rights are not to be taken for granted; on the contrary, they must be protected, at every possible occasion to do so, for there was a time when such a noble concept was not part of the then-current psyche.
Christopher: Is this a especially difficult time for human rights in South Africa? Is the problem political, social or religious in Nature?
Morgause: Times are hard in all parts of the world right now, but in our country, it is particularly hard to be an old woman, or an orphaned child, or disabled old man in a rural area. It is a given fact that when times are tough, folk turn on others with false accusations. The sort that cannot be proven but which inflame suspicion and fear in the hearts of those most affected by abject poverty, droughts, floods, unemployment, the recession; the situation in general.
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. Indignance and temperaments flare up and that which is dictated by the taboo is executed on the disempowered and weak, cruelty, violence, persecution, injustice, the infringement of human rights, is the sad and frightening end-result, which according to Isaak Niehaus in his book “Witchcraft, Power and Politics”, published in 2001, it is part and parcel of recently adopted power-politics and its associated tactic of scapegoating. In my opinion the problem is firstly social, one of culture, an adopted culture of violence and not one of traditional mores and folkways, one of superstition, lack of education and one of finger-pointing with the intent to harm, maim and kill, in order to hide the facts of the situation.
It is political also, as the relevant authorities are not addressing the matter nor are they creating the necessary infrastructure to support those falsely accused. The UN will not intervene, despite the fact that they received our correctly submitted petition, until we have the support of the various African Governments. Well, we’ve got news for them. We have appealed to the members of the Parliament of South Africa, the South African Human Rights Commission, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights 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 programmes aimed at eradicating the causes of witchcraft accusations, to train police to manage witchcraft accusations and witch-hunts in a way that affirms the dignity of those accused, to create victim support units to facilitate access to justice, reintegration and conciliation for the accused currently forced to live in involuntary exile from society, to uphold and strengthen a culture of human rights for all equally, including victims of accusation, and to reform legislation that currently seeks to suppress witchcraft or criminalize accused witches, but their replies leave much to be desired. There has been little or no commitment towards finding a satisfactory resolution.
As Damon Leff, Director of SAPRA stated, “There can be no human culture without human rights for all!” It is also interesting to note that in our country political rivals accuse the opposition of being witches and make strong alliances with church groups where religious fervour and indoctrination assist towards the taking-advantage of human insecurities and the subsequent exploitation of the voting majority through their need to please God through voting “in” god-fearing leaders who enjoy the support of the mainstream religious leaders in turn, and who continue to reiterate the Biblical injunction of “suffer not a witch to live”. So to answer your question more precisely, this problem is political, religious and social. What is even of greater concern, is that it is global, as well.
Christopher: When we are talking about witch hunts just what are we talking about? Is this like the ones in Europe and the United States centuries ago?
Morgause: Exactly the same. 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 across the world. Violence against women is at “crisis levels” throughout the various regions of South Africa. SAPRA has run a yearly 30 days Advocacy Campaign against Witch Hunts since 2008 and this year have undertaken to coordinate an exhibition to highlight the problem and thereby make people from all backgrounds and walks of life aware of the negative impact of violence on elderly, often sickly women and children in particular.
Christopher: Is the concept of “witch” native to Africa, or an import?
Morgause: Many say that the current concept is based on the Eurocentric idea of a witch. I believe something similar (if not the same) existed in Africa millennia ago. The malevolent sorcerer, who is respected and feared, is an ancient quasi-archetype that is woven through the human psyche across the globe. What I feel is different and possibly imported, is the judgement this word arouses in the hearts of the superstitious, as well as the persecution and cruelty exacted in the name of the age-old taboos.
Christopher: Why do people accuse others of witchcraft? Are any of the victims Witches?
Morgause: The victims do not identify themselves as witches and the accusations are false accusations, uttered in order to create a needed decoy, or simply blame someone so that you can profit from the resulting situation. Old people are often disposed of and their pension is collected for years, by a “caring and well-meaning relative” who boosts his income with the old deceased person’s pension.
Christopher: Does religion play a part?
Morgause: When it does not, directly, it is certainly an undercurrent of prejudice and indoctrination. A justification even!
Christopher: Is the media part of the problem?
Morgause: Most certainly. The Media jump at every opportunity to sensationalise any crime committed, purposefully attributing mysterious labels and adjectives which through misrepresentation create sensationalism, arouse curiosity and which will therefore increase the circulation of the tabloid. This in turn perpetuates the ignorance, the wrong attitude and the crimes that repeat themselves with no sign of ever abating.
Christopher: What about the police? Do they do anything about the violence? Is there any developments in the police that might be an added danger?
Morgause: In many of the cases, the police arrive too late, or are so horribly outnumbered that they cannot stop the mob from exacting “justice”. The recently re-instituted ORCU (Occult Related Crimes Unit) officers do not in my opinion have adequate training to be able to deal with the prejudice, the false accusations, and the committing of crimes against “falsely accused witches” and what they term as occult-related crimes. Members of SAPRA and the SAPC have engaged in debates with some of these officials and it has been admitted that they are not fully equipped to deal with everything they will investigate, be it in the Afro-centric sense of the argument as well as the Eurocentric.
Christopher: Does the government and politicians do anything about these attacks? Are they interested in doing anything?
Morgause: Most turn a blind eye on the matter and even justify its happening, for it is the perfect decoy for those who have something to hide. Corruption is rife. Some government bodies, some politicians, however, have expressed their horror and some of the Commissions have investigated the matter from time to time, but they lacked and lack in resources, the social and legal support, as well as the financial backing to actually make a difference at grass-roots level.
Christopher: The accused are not Pagans, so why are Pagans in the fight against it? Could the problem cause future harm for Pagans as well?
Morgause: Pagans are involved because it is the right thing to do. Yes, we could also be accused of practicing witchcraft (some of us do), but it would be shallow of us to engage in years of advocacy just because of the fact that we’re afraid it could happen to us too one day. It is no secret that the infringement of human rights is insidious and that the erosion of the same rights in general (that of Pagans included) could eventually lead to the loss of Human Rights altogether. This is common sense, but those of us engaging in the Advocacy do it because it is what is right and what is dictated by our conscience.
Christopher: How did the fight to end Witch hunts get started? Does this have a name?
Morgause: The Fight to end Witch hunts commenced with the Melville Mandate of 2007 and was followed up by SAPRA’s Touchstone Advocacy in 2008.
Christopher: What have been the difficulties faced in getting attention about this in South Africa? What about outside of South Africa?
Morgause: Most people feel it is a cultural thing and that it has nothing to do with them. Well, in my opinion they are wrong. What happens to my brother, or my neighbor, is my business too, for we are all interconnected and an injury to one is an injury to all.
Christopher: How have the attempts to end this violence changed over the years? What is happening new this year?
Morgause: This year SAPRA and the SAPC, in collaboration with several South African Artists, will be holding an exhibition, which bridges Human Rights Day. “The Advocacy” is a collaboration of several South African Artists, united 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 addressing the culture of “scapegoating”, halting the abuse and persecutions, as well as working towards the upholding and strengthening of a culture nurture in the lap of Human Rights and Gender Equality as well as creating and building the support for victims and survivors of this form of social abuse.
Christopher: Is there anything Pagans outside of South Africa can do to help? Can outside pressure help?
Morgause: Of course. Pressure always helps. We need more and more people to be made aware, to mobilise and join the struggle. People can support the 30 Day Campaign of Advocacy Against Witch Hunts by signing petitions and purchasing t-shirts to raise funds which guarantee the continuity of the Campaign.
Christopher: Where can people learn more about this violence? Is it just a South African problem or is it a lot bigger?
Morgause: This is a global problem, but folk can read and learn more about it on SAPRA’s website and through joining The Touchstone Advocacy page on Facebook. On-going cases are posted here, debates are held and plans are made to address the problem and to petition government and the authorities to roll up their sleeves and get involved in the resolution of this violent epidemic.
Christopher: Isn’t there a petition to be presented the Parliament of South Africa, the South African Human Rights Commission, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights? Would it help if Pagans and others in the rest of the world signed onto petition? Where can they take part in signing this petition?
Morgause: SAPRA currently has a petition which I invite all readers to peruse and sign. Remember there is no culture if anywhere on Mother Earth, the rights of our brothers and sisters are being denied and people are not getting the correct treatment, not being tried and are simply being executed by kangaroo courts. We need to say No more! End the brutality!
Christopher: Is there anything else you would like our readers to know?
Morgause: Witchcraft accusations, hangings, stonings, burnings, beatings, hackings, banishing and forced relocations are common types of brutality, and violence, women in particular are still subjected to in many communities of South Africa. All too often, with epidemic frequency, the disempowered (old women, children, and men) are subjected to false accusations, brutal, and abusive treatment at the hands of accusers, rural courts, superstitious and angry mobs who wish to purge their community of the perceived “evil” amongst them. Help us bring an end to accusations of witchcraft and witch hunts by persuading the appropriate authorities to admit that witch-hunts are a human rights abuse, and to prioritize advocacy and action to end witch hunts.