Witchcraft: a study in bias, prejudice and discrimination in South Africa


When discussing Witchcraft in polite company, one discovers that although not everyone permits their personal bias to evolve into open discrimination, those with bias against Witches carry their prejudice like a moral compass. In less than civil society, bias against Witchcraft is often overtly smug and pretentious, as though the prejudice itself was some form of badge of honour indicating one’s measure of commitment to the moral struggle. If you’re a Witch, social bias against you is pervasive and perverse.

This short study in bias, prejudice and discrimination is intended to begin to peel back the shameful and barbarous layers of institutionalized cultural bias that exists against Witchcraft in South Africa.

‘Witchcraft’ makes no apology for its lack of academic qualification. The study is an honest portrayal of bias, prejudice and discrimination experienced by real South African Witches. It is not intended to be an exhaustive examination of the psychological effects of stereotyping, prejudice or discrimination, nor is it intended to be unbiased. It is intended to be a critical indictment against the avarice of superstitious fantasy that barely mimics logic and reason in our nation’s psyche.

During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

Nelson Mandela’s statement from the dock at the opening of his trial on charges of sabotage, Supreme Court of South Africa, Pretoria, April 20 1964.

On 15 December 2008 Jacob Zuma, President of the African National Congress (ANC), addressing thousands of ANC supporters in Dan Qeqe stadium in Zwide, Port Elizabeth (Eastern Cape), called the leaders of the newly formed rival political party, the Congress of the People (COPE), Witches.

The National Post and the Star reported Zuma as saying, “It is better when you have an enemy that you don’t know. If you know the enemy, then it is more difficult. In Zulu we refer to a form of witchcraft called ukuphehla amanzi, where your enemy would mix dirt from your body in a calabash and stick a spear into the mixture to cause you sharp body pains. When the witch is a family member, we know that it’s more dangerous than an enemy from outside.” [1]

The Star concluded its report, “In Bloemfontein, Lekota told delegates that the ANC’s response to the formation of COPE had left sections of society paralysed with fear akin to the terror that gripped the nation under apartheid leaders, John Vorster and PW Botha.” [2]

Terror Lekota’s statement may prove to be an exaggerated response to political intimidation by ANC cadres intent on discrediting ex-ANC members now disillusioned with the ANC. Indeed, the election tone of the ANC’s 2008/9 campaign, like no other campaign before it, has largely focused on verbally abusing and denigrating the dignity of defecting ANC members, many of whom have chosen to join COPE, by publicly vilifying them, referring to them as traitors, dogs, snakes and baboons.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Themba Ndaba the chairperson of the Sedibeng ANC Youth League branch secretary told an interviewer, “People like Terror Lekota and all those people who want to destroy the history of the organisation (ANC), they behave like cockroaches and they must be destroyed”. [3] When asked what was meant by the word destroyed Ndaba responded, “We must kill them.”

Independent Democrat President Patricia de Lille cautioned the ANCYL secretary against using hate speech against COPE by reminding him “of the use of the word cockroaches by Hutus to describe Tutsis in the months before the Rwandan genocide.” [4]

Here one must pause and consider the influences and consequences of emotionally charged bias on a political platform with unfettered access to the media. In a country struggling to come to terms with opposition to the status quo, the unthinkable curse of almost every African democracy on the continent looms ominously on the rainbow horizon.

The African National Congress, which considers itself the rightful heir to power in South Africa for having delivered the country from apartheid in 1994, is terrified by COPE. [5]

The divisive figure at the centre of this new counter-revolution is Jacob Zuma, and its generals in waiting are ANCYL President Julius Malema and Cosatu secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi, both of whom have publicly pledged to kill for Zuma.

“Let us make it clear now: we are prepared to die for Zuma. Not only that, we are prepared to take up arms and kill for Zuma.” Julius Malema – ANC Youth League President [6]

In an ongoing attempt by Zuma supporters to protect their party’s President from facing 16 corruption and fraud charges, including racketeering, corruption and money laundering [7] Kwazulu-Natal Cosatu secretary warned South Africans that if Zuma is tried on corruption charges “there will be blood all over in the country”.

The almost cult following of the populist Zuma has drawn sharp criticism from politicians. When Ace Magashule, the ANC’s Free State chairperson claimed that “Zuma had been persecuted like Christ” [8] , Patricia de Lille demanded the ANC “stop using Jesus Christ, the Bible and Christianity in general to garner votes from the poor and the vulnerable.” [9]

At an early election rally in Polokwane, Limpopo Province, in November 2008 Zuma had referred to those who had left the ANC to join COPE as being “like the donkey on which, according to the Bible, Jesus rode into Jerusalem.” Zuma said, “The people were waiting for the Son of Man who was on the donkey. The donkey did not understand it, and thought the songs of praise were for him.”

According to Zuma, the donkey later tried to return to Jerusalem on its own in order to once again experience that moment of glory, but the people chased it away. In the same way the Congress of the People (Cope) leaders will find they are nothing without the ANC, Zuma said. [10]

Bushbuckridge Mayor, Milton Morema [11] is reported to have said to a crowd of supporters at a rally “I am here on behalf of the ANC to remind you of election time. There is only one party that led you from the hands of the Pharaohs in Egypt to Canaan. Since van Riebeeck landed here in 1652 the whites have oppressed the blacks. White people took away our land. The ANC has led the politics of resistance and many people have died in the struggle. The ANC follows the teachings of Jesus Christ. When Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem he identified with the poor. That is what the ANC does. Jesus Christ suffered because he wanted to see people sheltered. The ANC provides Bushbuckridge with houses. Jesus Christ would have loved to see people living in healthy situations. The ANC provides clinics and food parcels. Jesus fought poverty and suffering in his preaching. The ANC provides grants to stop people from suffering. Like the Pharaohs, God did not support the Apartheid government. That is why they did not last. But God supports this government. It does what Jesus does. It will rule till Jesus comes back.” [12]

As the model custodian of the Moral Regeneration Movement, Jacob Zuma has assumed the position of High Priest in the minds of former liberators and according to his followers, he can do no wrong. Is our constitutional democracy, under a Zuma government, preparing to shed the principles of equality and dignity in which leaders are elected to serve and protect the constitution, for an all-inclusive ANC Christian hegemony?

We can only hope that all this bluster is merely bluff, but one would be foolish to ignore or dismiss the depth of racial, ethnic and religious bias fueling this rabid fervor. Where there is substantial bias, there is always the potential for prejudice to evolve into discrimination and violence, especially when strong and positive leadership is absent. Incidences of intimidation and violence have already started between ANC, COPE and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) supporters. [13]

For many observers of this slowly unfolding count-down to South Africa’s 2009 elections the ANC’s aggressive election campaign is a reflection of deep-seated anxiety among the ruling elite and ordinary citizens are beginning to feel the consequences of this political insecurity.

In every region of the world, it seems that human rights are being rolled back. Frustration and bitterness are fueled by economic policies which make the rich richer and the poor poorer. And governments seem unwilling or unable to do anything about it. But they are prepared to go to great lengths to cover up their crimes.

Pierre Sané, Amnesty International Secretary-General


[1] Zuma calls COPE leaders Witches
War of words hots up
Published Monday 15 December 2008
Split threatens South Africa’s ruling ANC party
Peter Goodspeed, National Post Published Tuesday 16 December 2008
[2] War of words hots up
[3] ID’S Patricia de Lille slams ANC and COPE for Hate Speech
26 November 2008
[4] Ibid.
[5] Can South Africa’s ANC COPE with real opposition?
Clare Byrne – Africa News Published 16 Dec 2008
[6] Julius Malema is a child of the ANC
[7] Jacob Zuma corruption charges reinstated
[8] Zuma ‘persecuted like Christ’
Henry Cloete
30 November 2008
[9] ID’s Patricia De Lille Slams Anc For ‘selective Use Of Christianity To Further Political Goals’
1 December 2008
[10] Cope like Jesus’s donkey – Zuma
Carien du Plessis
Beeld Published 19 November 2008
[11] DA: Suspend Morema immediately
Published 22 April 2008
[12] The ANC and Religion
Gareth van Onselen
Published 1 December 2008
[13] Election intimidation and violence
ANC, IFP tensions boil over
Published 1 February 2009
Cope members say ANC using intimidatory tactics on them
Rochelle de Kock
The Herald Online Published 7 February 2009

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1 Response

  1. Tina says:

    And to think I was going to talk to someone in person about this.

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