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What are Witches going to do about the Press Ombudsman ?

05 December 2011, 11:19

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.

“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.

The South African media is enjoined by both state and industry to uphold commonly accepted ethical standards, to treat all people fairly and justly, 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 ?

The following letters of complaint, submitted by South African Witches, were sent to Philani Mgwaba, the Editor of the Sunday Tribune and Joe Thloloe, the South African Press Ombudsman after the Ombudsman ruled against considering a complaint lodged against the Sunday Tribune by Christa Martin of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance. Martin and many other South Africans have objected to the characterization of convicted murderer Charne van Heerden as ‘the Welkom witch’ on the Sunday Tribunes front page on November 27 2011.

The Sunday Tribune refused to publish them !

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Press Ombudsman Joe Thloloe

“Unfortunately this office will not entertain your complaint.” Joe Thloloe

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Dear Philani Mgwaba and Joe Thloloe…
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Foolish people make false claims

Why in this past article, Graveyard monster in the footsteps of the Welkom witch, are you calling Charne van Heerden a Witch when she is not? Remember you are saying this in a country where ignorant superstitious people beat, kill, even burn innocent people that they claim to be Witches and a government that refuses to deal with this very serious crime that kills or injures thousands of totally innocent people.

Are you trying to encourage this insanity? Are you trying to encourage healers and Christian ministers who fraudulently claim to be witch-finders to fatten their own pocket books? Or is your readership so small that this is the only way you feel that you can get more readers by dressing up a story with the phony claim that this criminal has something to do with witchcraft? Are you no more than just a scandal sheet, or are you a real newspaper?

Meanwhile actual Witches do none of the insane things that this person is accused of. So why are you making false claims that she is somehow a Witch. Why are you trying to slander people who practice to help people? Why are you lying in your claims that she is one? There are a few million Witches in the world, even international organizations of them. They are recognized in many civilized countries, they serve in our armed forces here in America. Our Air Force Academy has built a stone circle for their cadets that practice this and other pagan religions.

I myself am a Marine Vietnam Veteran and I take it rather personally when foolish people like you falsely make claims about my religion.

Christopher Blackwell
Deming, New Mexico
United State of America

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Vir aandag: Die Suid-Afrikaanse Persombudsman
Die redakteur: Sunday Tribune koerant

Vertel asseblief weer waarom ons as Suid-Afrikaners moet saam staan? Vir wat? Vir demokrasie? Vir nie-rassige omgewings en geleenthede? Teen rassisme en diskriminasie? Dit is wat ek ook gedink het. Nou waarom laat die Sunday Tribune dit toe om ‘n berig te plaas waar die Suid-Afrikaanse Persombudsman hom uitspreek teen Hekse en sommer almal oor dieselfde kam skeer?

Joe Thloloe, die einste Ombudsman, vertel, sommer op die voorblad van Sunday Tribune van 27 November 2011, dat alle Hekse moordenaars is. Ek waardeer Persvryheid, dié dat ek dit met ‘n hoofletter skryf, maar Persvryheid sluit verantwoordelikheid in. Daar was geen bewyse dat die sg. Welkom Heks, Charné van Heerden, wel ‘n Heks is/was nie. Sover ek kan onthou, is daar uitdruklik gesê dat sy nie een is nie.

Mnr. Thloloe, hoe het u, u werk gekry? Hopelik omdat u weet wat u doen? Ek hoop so. Ek sien dat u laat weet het dat u kantoor nie ons klagte gaan “entertain” nie. Waarom nie? Dit is julle werk.

‘n Moordenaar is iemand wat iemand anders se lewe neem. Dit is nie ‘n Heks wat ‘n lewe neem nie, of ‘n Swartmens wat ‘n lewe neem nie, of ‘n Christen wat ‘n lewe neem nie…dit is gewoon net iemand. Julle kennis oor die aangeleentheid is min en u het gepraat voordat u gedink het. Die Sunday Tribune kan gerus hulle koppe in skaamte laat sak…net verlede week baklei ons vir Persvryheid en die reg om te weet. Dit is julle werk as koerant op die wêreld te laat weet…van inligting gebaseer op korrekte feite! Julle verkrag self dit waarvoor julle baklei! Om die uitlating van Mr. Thloloe te publiseer, was ondeurdag en onverantwoordelik. Wil julle verantwoordelik gehou word vir moontlike moorde op enige persoon wat die gemeenskap eensklaps identifiseer as Hekse?

Mnr. Thloloe, hanteer maar eerder die klagte; dit ons as Pangane se reg om gehoor te word. Dit staan so in die Grondwet (onthou u nog daardie dokument?). Nie net het u teen my, en my mede-Pangane gediskrimineer nie, u vertrap ons demokratiese reg. As daar een groep is wat nie diskrimineer nie, dan is dit ons!

Indien u, na al hierdie klagtes wat u ontvang het, steeds besluit om nie die klagte te hanteer nie, wel, ons Pangane glo in die Wet van Drie; wat jy aan iemand anders doen sal drie keer na jou toe terug kom -en ons hoef nie ‘n vinger te lig nie – u het dit oor u self gebring. Die kosmos het ‘n eienaardige manier om onregverdighede reg te stel. En nee, menere, dit is nie ‘n dreigement nie! U weet self dat dit wat op of af moet gaan, vanself weer reggestel word indien nodig…

Indien u diskrimineer teen Afrikaans, laat weet my asseblief, ek sal dié brief met liefde laat vertaal in enige taal wat u vind is nodig.

Ek is ‘n Heks en ek is trots daarop. Ek is ‘n trotse lid van Pangaanse gemeenskap in Suid-Afrika en ondersteun ‘n nie-rassige, demokratiese en ‘n ondiskriminerende land en omgewing. Ek nooi u uit om in gesprek met ons gemeenskap te tree…u sal slegs wyser daaruit tree. Dit is nie so erg om ‘n fout te erken en herken nie.

Adré Henning
BA (Kommunikasie) RAU 1993
BA Hons. (Uitgewerswese) UP 1997

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Proud to be a Witch

Let me begin by saying, I think this is probably one of a few letters that are not written in anger.

I feel a few points need to be nade about pagans, druids, wiccans and even sangomas, basicly a shama or wize person of any sort, basicly a “WITCH”. Just for the record the word “Witch” comes from the word “Wicca” (n.pr.: Wi-ch-ah) meaning wize person or elder. (personaly i studied for 10 years before being allowed to move from acolyte to bardand 14 years later am still progressing to full druid)

I AM PROUD TO BE A WITCH

As European “witches” our story begins in roman times with the conquest of Europe. the Romans so feared us that the only method of execution for a witch or druid was to break their backs over a trestle. Being put to the sword or to be hanged was deemed too quick a death. The broken body was left for all to see as an example. The suffering must have been immense.

Going through the ages the church documented more than 9 million executions by fire and 12 million deaths by torture over a 600 year period during the time of the inquisition. Standard practice was to parade the broken tortured people through the town or city before execution or excommunication from the church. Remember the church ran the world at the time. Immagine the broken tortured bodies carted through the city or dumped in the river, even the burned remains of those burned alive.

These atrocities have continued through the ages and have come to modern day South Africa where we are doing the same to our people, hacking them to pieces of neclacing them (burned alive). All the people remember is the remains of what they once were.

I want you to remember this because when you call me a witch i wear that badge with honor, the battered green faces from the Halloween masks portrays what the people have done and do not show the beautiful people witches are you can call us what you want and do to us what you want we will wear that badge as well with pride. Remember it is us you fear not us who fear you.

MALEUS NOX

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Prejudice in the Tribune

It is with dismay that I read articles in your paper in which disparaging remarks were repeatedly made in reference to an entire religious grouping, albeit a minority grouping – namely in the case of convicted murderer Charne van Heerden: Your writers persisted in naming this woman ‘the Welkom witch’, and indulged in perpetuating the stereotype that all real Witches are monsters of van Heerden’s ilk – even though there exists absolutely no evidence to suggest that she was or is a real Witch, or even a practitioner of Witchcraft, or even an adherent of any Pagan faith or path.

I would like to know why it is a crime in South Africa to depict black people as ‘inferior’ and Jewish people as ‘stingy’ – while it is somehow perfectly acceptable for your paper to portray a religious minority group as dangerous, violent and undesirable – and then to have the arrogance to defend this position when you have received legitimate complaints from the Pagan community who are directly affected in a negative sense by such sentiments when expressed in so public a manner?

Are you aware that rural populations in this country are so prejudiced against the concept of witchcraft that they persecute and murder anyone they even suspect of being a witch – whether or not they are truly Witches – and that such unprofessional and sensation-seeking “journalism” (worthy of a paper such as “Die Son”) can only serve to inflame and exacerbate such misconceptions and persecution?

In the light of the fact that such discrimination on the grounds of religious beliefs is perfectly described in the SA Constitution, I have serious issues with both your ethos as well as that of the Press Ombudsman who has clearly ruled erroneously in your favor. This is evidence of the mentality that says “Don’t be silly, it’s okay to call murderers witches because ‘everybody knows’ there is no such thing as witches…” – except for the minor detail that THERE ARE. I wonder what the Constitutional Court would make of this case?

Surely it is obvious that this bigoted practice is like talking about the race of the perpetrator of a crime as if that has anything specific to do with the issue at hand? After all, you don’t hear people talking about the “so-and-so Christian” who killed four people, do you? Even in the case of the Humansdorp man (who claimed to be a pastor) who led a group of Christians in murdering a nine year old girl last week during a so-called “exorcism”, the impression was not created that ALL Christians were tarred and feathered thusly. Why is religion “not an issue” when somebody who is a Christian commits a murder, or a robbery – but suddenly religion becomes relevant when the perpetrator is not a Christian, and then it is highlighted as if it might be a probable cause of the crime?

Not to worry, dear Editor – I am well aware that not all Christians are vicious murderers, liars or theives – but why is it okay for you to portray all Witches as dangerous killers? It’s prejudice and stereotyping, pure and simple. I deplore your double standards!

Christina Engela

.

I Object !

I object to your use of the words “In the footsteps of the Welkom witch” on your front page last week. As far as I know convicted murderer Charne van Heerden does not identify as a witch so I can only speculate that you used those words because you thought they would help you sell your paper, without any due care for the consequences thereof. I do not identify as a witch myself so why do I care? I care because I would like to think that the freedom of our press is something worth fighting for. I care because the perpetuation of the negative witch stereotype in the media contributes to the ongoing violent “witch hunts” in our country where innocent people including children are killed on a regular basis. I care because this behaviour keeps my country in the Dark Ages, effectively supporting the efforts of Christians to demonize anything that falls outside of their dogma. I care because I value my constitutional right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion without unfair discrimination.

Yours sincerely

Helen Riding

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Sunday Tribune innaccurate reporting

The term “Welkom witch” used in your newspaper’s article about the heinous crime committed by Charne van Heerden in Welkom, is bigoted and anti-constitutional, and, as a member of the Pagan community – a real Witch, in fact, I am highly offended.

There is absolutely NO evidence to support the claim that Ms van Heerden is, in fact, a practicing witch, or even whether she has a nodding acquaintance with Witchcraft of any kind.

The tendency, in this country, to lump such barbaric acts as this murder, together with the so-called “muti murders” and call them “witchcraft” is appalling.

As a purveyor of news to the nation, is it not your responsibility to provide news that is accurate?   Surely otherwise, you would be a mere tabloid, dealing in gossip and innuendo?

The fact that the Press Ombudsman has permitted the use of this term, does not make you right.  It makes you, and him, ignorant.  In the position held by each of you as regards informing the nation, this is deplorable.

Please be so kind as to rectify your mistake before it snowballs into the mass murder of innocent witchcraft practitioners, who, I can assure you, make up the real ”witch” community.

Yours sincerely

J L Martins

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Sunday Tribune the Graveyard Monster !

South Africa is currently suffering many blows to its democracy and freedom and it would seem various members of the South African community, within their own divisions see it fit to slander or otherwise offend each other.

This is the case with your publication, the Sunday Tribune and I make specific reference to your use of the word Witch for the story titled “Graveyard Monster”.

While the word “witch” may be used to describe an ugly old hag bent over a cauldron containing less than savoury ingredients in fiction, it is most certainly different in the real world.

Allow me to enlighten you as to why your choosing of the word witch to describe and otherwise ridicule a murderer as callous and offensive.

Since the revival of Paganism and Witchcraft in the 1950’s, the word Witch is in all actuality used to describe a person following a nature-based religion such as Wicca that promotes peace, equality and positive morals, not the murder and dismembering of any person.

Real Witches or Pagans have to fight a constant battle against the ignorance that connects Witchcraft with Satanism – two completely different belief systems with no connection whatsoever and your publication has only helped make matters worse in this regard.

Whether or not the Press Ombudsman approves of the manner in which the word was used is immaterial. I, as a Pagan am letting you know it was unacceptable and offensive.

What is more offensive is that Press Ombudsman, Joe Thloloe seems to be 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.

I support Christa Martin, an executive member of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA) in lodging a complaint against your publication and I further condemn your tactlessness.

I implore you to exercise consideration before using any term or word that may have a connection to a religion.

Sargon

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Sociopath, Not Witch !

I am writing in objection to the use of the word ‘witch’ in your article on the woman that has been convicted of murder in Welcom.

This is an incorrect use of this word and that it is being used in the place of a ‘bad’ person shows that the writer is ignorant of the rich and ancient religion of Witchcraft.

Witchcraft has been much maligned by many of the newer and more popular religions, such as Christianity but in this more enlightened era most people who are educated to know that a ‘Witch’ is someone who is wise in the ways of nature & someone who reveres life in all of its diversity.

This article seems to use the word to donate Witchcraft to some unlawful practices that would be unthinkable to the modern Witch, where the modern and more scientific word ‘sociopath’ would be more appropriate.

I invite you and any of your colleagues to meet with me to fully explore the understanding of Witchcraft to avoid this mistake in the future.

Yours sincerely

Dr. Lucy Smulian DD,Lic.Acu,MBAcA,Dip.Nutrit,Psych.

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Irresponsible reporting

The “Graveyard Murder” case has been nothing but a media fiasco since the tragic event took place in April. Continuous headlines called the murder an “Occult” murder or a “satanic killing” without there being any evidence that this was the case. Now that the court case has progressed and the facts have come out, it is clear that there was no religious motive involved in the killing at all. Van Heerden has been called a psychopath with a desire to experiment and she denied any ties to Satanism.

Yet, the media still tries to milk the story for some kind of connection to occultism or to Satanism, when there is none. A recent article in the Sunday Tribune called Van Heerden “the Welkom witch”. Why are there still attempts to link the murder to some religious or supernatural agenda?

I find the media to be highly irresponsible with regards to how many publications covered this story. From the get go, fundamentalist Christian organizations like Auksano had a voice in this case. This organization has a clear Anti-Occult bias based on their own religious persuasions. How is such one-sided reporting fair to real practicing occultists in South-Africa? We are all law-abiding, decent citizens and find this kind of reporting to be highly unfair.

Calling the murder an “occult” murder casts a negative light upon all occult practices and practitioners of whatever form. “The occult” includes systems of divination and magical practice, whether one personally believes in these things should not matter here, the fact here is that there are serious practitioners of such systems who do not commit any crimes or inflict harm on others. “The occult” is a complex field and includes many philosophies and many different views. The occult, however, is only seen in this extremely negative light from within the perspective of Christianity.

Why must a murder be called an “occult murder” or a “satanic killing”? Why not just call it a murder? It seems the media use these connections as a form of sensationalism. The connections to any forms of occultism are usually very arbitrary and ridiculous and the same goes for a satanic connection. If we use this same reasoning any crime where a Bible is found in the house of the perpetrator should be called a “Christian Crime”, yet we do not do this, we do not bring religion into everything.
Why should the above then apply to Satanism and Occultism?

Such irresponsible reporting does indeed affect the lives of various minority religious groups. We have to constantly explain ourselves and defend ourselves to outsiders with no real understanding or knowledge of such beliefs. We are all seen in a negative light as potentially dangerous or unstable individuals. We may be ostracized if others learn of our interests.

The Satanism angle also came from a particularly Christian bias and the unsubstantiated Christian belief in a wide ranging Satanic Conspiracy. No evidence of such a conspiracy even exists and the Satanic Panic has been thoroughly debunked years ago. Real Satanists have nothing whatsoever to do with the Christian mythical stereotype. Real Satanism, as in Laveyan Satanism is clearly the opposite of the Christian stereotypical view. The sensationalistic media has simply been fueling fundamentalist Christian agenda against all forms of occultism.

Calling Van Heerden the “Welkom witch” at this point is simply ludicrous. Again it suggests a connection to occult practices where none exist. It is also problematic considering that there are Witches in South Africa who are serious practitioners of occult arts or religious beliefs in a positive light – I differentiate the term “witch” here from the use in an African traditional context. Since Van Heerden is not a witch and since the term has such complex associations, it would have been far better to simply omit the label here entirely. It is not relevant and even irresponsible.

All I ask is that there is fair treatment of all religious systems in the press. Crimes committed within the context of Christianity do not get labelled as “Christian crimes”, suggesting that all Christians are bad and prone to violence or that Christianity is inherently a religion that leads to misconduct.

Regards

Francisco

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Violating my right to dignity

I am writing to you from Mpumalanga where the crimes against children, women and men are the order of the day.  The accusation against these innocent peoples is that of “witchcraft”.  None of these people are witches and the crimes against them continue unaddressed because the media and the legal entities in our country, insist on giving the perpetrators of these violent crimes, the indirect right to continue hiding behind the smokescreen they unwittingly are affording them, by perpetuating the prejudice and stereotypes in their newspapers and broadcasts.  The reality of the matter is that the victims are scapegoats and the real Witches watch on powerless as the witch-hunts are fueled by the “bad”, “misinformed” and sensationalist press.

I am a member of the South African Pagan community.  Albeit a religious minority, we are a legally recognized and SARS registered Religious Organization, counting amongst us self-identified Witches (or adherents to the religion of Witchcraft).    We take umbrage to the continued stereotyping of Witches and their portrayal as wicked criminals, as in your article on Charne van Heerden last week.  Witches and Pagans have been involved in years of Advocacy against witch-hunts in Africa and your infringement of our Constitutional Rights annuls our every step gained in the direction of educating the public and contributing towards arresting the gratuitous violence against the innocent and lending a voice to the downtrodden and disempowered members of our rural communities.

I object to the use of the words “In the footsteps of the Welkom witch” on your front page, Mr. Editor.  Your use of the word “witch” is a violation of my rights, an obvious speculation aimed at increasing sales of your newspaper, and furthermore it dangerously promotes the continued climate of ignorance in which human rights crimes thrive.

Let us call these barbaric crimes by their real names, and let those crimes be punished accordingly by the Law.  If ethical reporting and journalism no longer sell papers, then I pray that perhaps your conscience will dictate the reflection on words chosen and published in your newspaper in the future, for words have consequences and these consequences are suffered by innocent little children, old ladies and men.

Morgause Fonteleve
South African Pagan Council Registrar

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Idiotic Superstitions

I am in total shock and am horrified that a person in your position would succumb to the idiotic superstitions that a witch is a person that is only capable of murder and is seen as a danger to society. Have you even bothered to pick up a dictionary and looked up the meaning of the word? Then again you clearly have not seeing as you allowed the Sunday tribune to print “Graveyard Monster: In the footsteps of the Welkom witch” it is due to ignorant fools such as yourselves that promote “witch hunts” and religious discrimination in this country!

Do you know or even care how many innocent men, women, children and even babies are murdered every year due to witch hunts? Murdered, stoned to death, stabbed, burned, banished all on the suspicion of being a “witch” by ignorant fools fueled on by articles portraying “witches” as nothing but a danger to society.

On many occasions real witches have made themselves available to be interviewed to show that we are not the stereotype that are portrayed in the media, but no you would rather use the name “witch” in a derogatory manor because it sells. Forget the fact, yes fact, that it promotes discrimination unto real witches in South Africa and in the minds of the uneducated gives them the right to kill innocent people in the name of protecting their society. Instead of assisting and educating the masses to prevent the killing of innocent lives you rather promote the discrimination all in the name of what “ever sells the story”.

It is due to headlines such as “Graveyard Monster: In the footsteps of the Welkom witch” that innocent blood is spilled, let that blood be on your head the next time you sanction a headline portraying Witches as nothing but evil!

Fallon Young

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Slanderer of Witches

I respectfully demand, as a South African witch , that you Mr Thloloe, and those in your lynch mob stop at once the slander of my beliefs to sell your newspapers.

You have no right to be shouting your mouth off about things you have not bothered to educate yourself on, and we as South African witches will not tolerate your attacks in silence. The media continue to print articles for sensationalism , without truth or fact to back their statements up!

You have no consideration for those of us who are the true witches, healers and such. If you had any idea of what we stand for, or believe in, you would realise what fools you are actually making of yourselves, and what trouble you are making for good, law abiding citizens of this country .

Our belief as witches , is “to harm none”, but you continue to make us out to be some blood thirsty cult which should be cut out of society. We are the ones who actually give a damn about the poor, the needy, the abused, the underdog!!! We are the ones who are striving to make a difference in South Africa by standing up for rights of animals and people alike.

I am shocked and enraged by your comments and demand that you either read up on what we stand for, or shut up! It is so true that closed minds should come with closed mouths, because you are instilling fear in people based on your uninformed ideas about what witchcraft is.

I am a witch, and I am proud to be one. I choose to co-exist with all faiths and belief systems, all colours and creeds, and I repeat I AM A WITCH! Can you say the same for yourself?

Yours Sincerely

Summer Jezebel Raine Thesner
Alberton – Johannesburg

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