Over the past week a serious issue has come to light over the reformation of the SA Police's "Occult Related Crime" units. In a press release last week, the SA Pagan Rights Alliance, representing the Pagan community of South Africa, revealed that the SAPS is forming these units to address so-called "occult related crimes", based on information obtained from a SAPS internal memo. Most of the items on the list (i.e. "investigating rape by a Tokoloshe") are patently ridiculous, and make the SAPS look even worse than its largely overweight and too-incompetent-to-handle-a-firearm 'blobbies' on the beat PR image already do. The other items place non-Christians in South Africa up front as targets for suspicion and intimidation simply on the grounds of their belief systems, and largely on the basis of "crimes" which could never ever be proven in a court of law.
In an article on Times Live today, "national police spokesman Colonel Vish Naidoo said police were not targeting religious groups and that investigating such crimes was not new."
Do they really think a casual dismissal of serious concerns is appropriate? For all intents and urposes saying that "Those people don't know what they are talking about, and anyway, it has always been this way" does NOT make it 'okay'!
I don't think half of the idiots who are out there, sowing panic and hysteria over alleged "occult related crime" and throwing the term "Satanism" around so liberally, even have half an idea of what actual Satanism is - or that those people running round committing muti-related crimes and the like, have NOTHING to do with Satanism as a religion or theology.
As the author of this article so eloquently puts it: "They have a religious agenda which they pursue by being the “go-to people” for information on the occult, witchcraft etc, and instead of providing real information, they spread lies and propaganda. In public relations terms they certainly realise the importance of “controlling the message” and have been quite successful at doing so, notwithstanding substantial gains by groups such as the South African Pagan Rights Alliance in setting the record straight." I especially love this part: "But those who sell themselves as experts on occult-related crimes either don’t know this, which would mean they are not experts at all, or they do know it but wilfully mislead people." Ain't that the truth?
The SAPS can't arrest a person on suspicion of suspicion. Well, actually they can - and often do, it seems - but they get sued for wrongful arrest and detention, and sometimes police brutality as well - as evidenced by the over 6000 such cases recently reported as being outstanding against the SAPS. No actual physical evidence of an actual crime amounts to wrongful arrest. If they do this, then it is grounds for wrongful arrest and/or intimidation charges and a law suit. Are they sure they want to go there on the basis of the furtherance of a purely discriminatory religious agenda?
Perhaps they have been watching too much "Death Valley"? As one person pointed out in a discussion of this absurd waste of tax payers money and government resources, perhaps the SAPS will train their ORC unit members by having one run around draped in a sheet, and having the others chasing him. Appropriate.
Instead, the SAPS website lists the training of officers for these units as being just 5 days long - all that is apparently required to become an "expert" in the field of "occult related crime"! Perhaps these courses take the form of a spiritual retreat or week-long prayer meeting under the guidance of a Christian pastor, with copies of the Bible under one arm, and one of Kobus Jonker's books under the other - followed by a braai and a piss-up on the Friday, as most of these things end in the government service?
It seems the SAPS holds the view that "occult experts" such as former SAPS member Kobus Jonker and the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) hold more accurate knowledge about Paganism, Witchcraft and Vampyrism than do the participants of these communities themselves - of whom it is claimed, they consider "merely ignorant".
Several books by these former SAPS "witch hunters" are still prescribed reading for SAPS recruits, no surprises there. People who can't think outside the box for themselves are often trapped inside it. Of course, they must be right, being the authority and all - real Witches, Pagans and vampires are "ignorant" - it seems the *cough* "experts" think we don't know anything at all about what we are or what we do or believe in - the real experts are Christians - who apparently know everything about everything. Simply engaging with them and trying to correct their ignorance, is only furthering a "satanic agenda".
The solution seems pretty clear to me on the matter of religious equality; Paganism needs to be more advertised, open, publicized. What is needed is more than a few information sites on the internet - but flyers, newspaper ads and articles, public speakers willing to go on TV shows and be interviewed for magazine and newspaper articles. We need visible offices, formalized clergy or spokespeople etc. We need people to be more open about their pride in what they believe - this is not "evangelism" by any means, but being open to questions and being willing to answer them.
Outsiders - and especially those who place themselves in authority as 'experts" - need to understand that WE the participants are the real experts on the issues of what constitutes Paganism, Witchcraft, Satanism (and yes, even vampirism) - and not a bunch of outsiders who view it through the prejudice and bias of an external and judgemental religion, and that we will not be intimidated or go back into the shadows just to please them or escape their shallow prejudice.
I acknowledge one big obstacle to overcome, is that many Pagans feel hesitant to formalize and structure, since they associate that with the Christian church perse' - a big machine that swallows it's participants whole and turns them into nameless, faceless cogs - losing them among the many wheels within wheels. However I think the best compromise is to focus on reassuring each Pagan of their autonomy - while an umbrella body such as the SA Pagan Council or SA Pagan Rights Alliance handles all negotiations or addresses all matters between the Pagan community and external authorities on their behalf.
I also think it's time that Pagans realized that nothing happens in this field without serious financial investment. Christian churches all receive money from their members, who give mindlessly and faithfully because it is expected of them to the point that it is even built into their liturgy and doctrine. For some reason, we as Pagans are "above" all that materialism, and do not like the control and constraints of either liturgy or doctrine. Sorry to break it to you folks, but it's time to wake up and smell the coffee. There are those in the outside world who despise diversity, and they hate things they don't understand - and they don't wish to understand things they hate - and once again, that is the Pagan, the Witch, and whoever else they dislike, distrust and don't think anyone will care about defending.
Christians, and especially Christians in government, have power and influence over our lives because they have money behind them. Money to influence others, money to effect changes. Yes, they have more numbers in terms of ignorant and willingly ignorant and servile followers - and yes, even if all Pagans do contribute to a central "defense or advocacy fund" or whatever you want to call it, we still won't match their numbers or finances - BUT at least there will be money to take out adverts, afford legal fees to challenge issues in court, do promotions and host events that won't have to come out of the organizer's own pockets, or result in the organizer's falling out of favor with their employers and getting fired for taking time off to organize Pagan Pride events et al. Over all, this will strengthen our public image and social position - not as the criminal and dodgy stereotypes they accuse us of being, but as proud, productive and honorable citizens of this country who no longer need to make a habit of hiding in the shadows - and who are worthy of their respect.
I think it's time the Pagan/Witch/etc community got involved and invested in our own future, instead of sitting back and letting the vocal and dedicated few handle it while we prepare to duck into the storm shelter, pretend nobody's home, and only think of ourselves. There is strength in unity - and I think it's time we stood with Damon Leff and the organizations who are working for US, to defend and promote OUR rights to freedom of religion.