Two young News24 bloggers, Sean and Balstrome, each with little actual knowledge of either real Witchcraft or the underlying beliefs that motivate brutal witch-hunts globally, recently waded into the shallows on the conviction of Magalie Bamu and Eric Bikubi, who were found guilty of torturing and drowning Kristy Bamu (15), whom they accused of being 'a witch'.
Both approached the subject with little sympathy for the victim of this tragedy.
As an activist advocating for an end to witch-hunts and an actual Witch resident in Africa, I have good reason to take umbrage at bloggers (and journalists in general) who have used this case to pontificate on the merits of ‘belief in witchcraft’ and ‘African morality’ as if African Witches themselves were to blame for this example of child abuse.
‘Witchcraft’ murders? Hardly! Since both Magalie and Eric were Christians, why should copious headlines covering this story not read ‘Christians murder child’ instead?! The crime here is not one of identity, but one of accusation. Real Witches are not responsible for accusations of witchcraft; those who fabricate and perpetuate superstitious libel against Witchcraft are the enablers of witch-hunts!
Witch-hunts on the African continent are largely motivated through localized forms of religious extremism by practitioners of traditional African religions who believe that witchcraft is the cause of misfortune, traditional healers (including diviners, herbalists, 'witch-doctors') who use various forms of divination to point out suspected witches, and charismatic revivalist Christian religious leaders (pastors and prophets) who use their prejudicial notions of witchcraft as a manifest form of satanic evil to encourage their followers to find (accuse) and convert suspected witches.
As a 2010 UNICEF report entitled 'Children Accused of Witchcraft: An anthropological study of contemporary practices in Africa' confirmed, accusations of Witchcraft against children are indeed rising in frequency in several countries in Africa. Witch-hunts have become epidemic throughout Africa.
"Children accused of witchcraft are subject to psychological and physical violence, first by family members and their circle of friends, then by church pastors or traditional healers. Once accused of witchcraft, children are stigmatized and discriminated for life." [Aleksandra Cimpric - UNICEF WCARO, Dakar]
Among UNICEF 's recommendations, the report details 1) the regulation of both traditional healers, who traditionally act as Witch-finders and Pentecostal revivalist churches who advocate Witch-sniffing as a means to spiritual salvation, 2) strengthening of evidence and understanding of Witchcraft accusations against children, 3) promoting social change through dialogue on Witchcraft accusations, 4) access to child and family welfare services for child victims, 5) promoting the role of health professionals in protecting children accused of Witchcraft and 6) access to the legal system for children accused of Witchcraft, including legal reform to decriminalize Witchcraft. Actual Witches would welcome such legal reform.
In March 2011 the South African ‘Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities’ publicly announced its support for a campaign launched by South African Witches represented by the South African Pagan Rights Alliance.
The campaign - '30 days of advocacy against witch-hunts' 29 March to 27 April – was started in 2007 and has become an annual, and global, advocacy event.
We, the South African Pagan Rights Alliance, once again appeal to all Commissions for Human Rights internationally to encourage all governments to:
a. halt the persecution of suspected or accused witches,
b. uphold and strengthen a culture of human rights for all equally,
c. respond appropriately and humanely to incidences of accusations of witchcraft,
d. make the eradication of violence against suspected witches an international priority,
e. train local police to manage witchcraft accusations and violent witch-hunts in a way that affirms the dignity and humanity of those accused of practicing witchcraft,
f. create victim support units to facilitate reintegration and conciliation of those accused,
g. adopt comprehensive public education and awareness programmes aimed at eradicating the real causes of witchcraft accusations, and
h. reform legislation that currently seeks to suppress witchcraft or criminalize accused witches.
I appeal to all who read this, to support an international call for an end to witchcraft accusations and witch-hunts, irrespective of whether or not you support the right of actual Witches to exist.
Director: South African Pagan Rights Alliance