Tuesday, January 26, 2016


Let's talk about belief. It's amazing - and also quite frightening - how some people seem to be more concerned with what other people believe about anything, rather than concerning themselves with their own private beliefs. Typically this is even more true when it comes to religious beliefs.

Some adherents of certain religions for example, find it difficult to not become obsessed about other people who do not share their particular beliefs. They can, and often do, even go so far as to claim that other people's beliefs are 'harmful' - either to the believer themselves, or to others - typically while believing that their own are not. 

It becomes something of a finger-pointing game. I see it happening in my social media news feed every day. I daily scroll past thread after thread of people arguing about how wrong, stupid, ignorant etc everyone else is for not agreeing with them - flame wars filled with people fighting to convince others how right their particular religion is, and about how wrong, misguided, dangerous and harmful the other is. 

It has to be the most unaware, blissfully ignorant display of self-glorifying selfishness there is.
But let's talk about what some people like to call "harmful religious practices". By that, they mean acts (the legal eagles out there would like to include 'or omission') committed under the auspices of a religion, but which could be considered harmful or which constitute a crime. This is my own definition of course.

A hot talking point in local South African Pagan circles this past week has been the Witchcraft Suppression Act and the language it employs to criminalize anyone practicing witchcraft or who refers to their religious practices as witchcraft, or who identify themselves as Witches. Much has been said about this Act before, and my intention is not to rehash all of that here - this article is about belief and the criminalization - or in effect, the policing of belief.

Beliefs about alleged "harmful witchcraft practices" - i.e. "harmful religious practices" remain just that, beliefs. Just as in the case of accusation, belief that someone has committed a crime is not proof that that person HAS committed a crime.

How can anyone criminalize belief? How do you police belief? Belief and freedom of conscience are a freedom central to the very tenets upon which this country's democracy - ailing or not - is built. 

Any law which seeks to police or restrict the freedoms of conscience - that is, the RIGHT of South Africans to believe what they will, to think what they will, or to identify (RIGHT to freedom of association) with a belief or religion is unconstitutional and therefore illegal and invalid - as the recent court victory over the Witchcraft Suppression Act of 2007 has clearly demonstrated. (http://www.paganrightsalliance.org/salrc-finds-witchcraft-suppression-act-unconstitutional/)

All the acts which they call 'harmful religious practices' - namely murder, possession or dealing in human tissue, violence, intimidation, fraud, kidnapping, assault, cruelty to animals, pedophilia, rape and child abuse are already covered somewhere else under the law anyway. Are they not?

Why the duplication? Why the special double-criminalization of already criminalized acts by associating them in law with a belief system? Why the focus on specific religious beliefs? Surely a crime remains a crime regardless of the religion of the perpetrator or the name of the deity in which the act was committed?

Why the special attention placed on minority beliefs and religions, while majority religions and beliefs not only do not receive the same attention, but actually tend to be the parties influencing the lawmakers and law-enforcers?

This is why sometimes you will see people being accused of being criminals simply because they identify with the 'wrong' beliefs - because they wear a pentacle, or because they don't go to church, or because of the color clothing they wear. Black candles were found at the scene, or music CD's by such-and-such a band, or books on kitchen witchcraft were found in the teenager's room - so naturally it was 'satanism' and they are guilty - ergo all Wiccans/ Pagans/ Witches/ Heathens/ Satanists/ Luciferians are automatically suspect. Before they even appear in court, before a single bit of evidence has been presented, they are already guilty in the minds of the Police, the Media and the Public.

Therefore, in the mindset that drafted this law, anyone who believes in witchcraft as a religion, practices witchcraft or purports to practice witchcraft or identifies as a witch is automatically suspicious - suspected that is, of all the so-called 'harmful religious practices' to which the nice folks in blue uniforms over at the SAPS's ORC like to refer. What are those? Oh, just the regular twaddle about witches performing human sacrifice, dealing in human tissue (body parts, muti etc), stealing and killing cats and dogs on the dates on what they call 'the occult calendar'. Yes, that one - the 'calendar' that has a ritual date of supposed 'satanic' significance for virtually every day of the year and twice on Sundays - just so that whenever some crime is committed they can claim it was an 'occult related' crime because it occurred on such and such a day.

In stark contrast, conversely, when you see a Christian cleric charged for fraud, rape or child molestation, odds are you would never see them being arrested by the SAPS's ORC unit, or charged under the Witchcraft Suppression Act of 2007 (currently in the process of being repealed and picked apart on the grounds that it is unconstitutional). No, crimes involving Christian clerics tend to be hushed up as quickly and quietly as possible and even made to disappear entirely from the spotlight. 

For example, nobody seems to know what happened to the case where a sickly Humansdorp girl died during an exorcism in a church while under the care of her parents, a pastor and some of his congregation a few years ago - yet every paper in the country was filled with hysterical articles about a couple of kids who applied Christian doctrine in the burning of a teenage girl in a drink-fueled, made-up, psuedo-satanic ritual which was actually based upon media and ORC-created and perpetuated propaganda.

That's because double standards are being applied.

Apparently it has been 'just fine' for the government (on the advice of fraudulent self-proclaimed 'occult experts', quacks and charlatans using fantasy and falsified material to back their claims) to suspect people who identify as 'witches' on account of their religious beliefs or by whatever name they chose to adopt or to identify with, to be capable of these acts - and to specifically formulate laws to directly suppress, oppress and criminalize their beliefs based upon these suspicions which are baseless and without any foundation in fact whatever, and always have been.

Basically what this law said was that it's perfectly fine for South Africans to exercise their right to freedom of conscience (belief) and their right to freedom of association (identity and to gather out of mutual interest) - UNLESS they happened to be adherents of a PARTICULAR religion or set of beliefs and if they happened to use or identify with witches or the practice of witchcraft.

So then... obviously - the real goal of such laws then is to define religious beliefs NOT of the mainstream Christian facet AS criminal by nature.

This is so wrong that I shouldn't even have to try to explain why - or how wrong it is. That this offensive law has been found unconstitutional is a good thing - a very good thing indeed. Not just for Witches, Pagans and Heathens, but for everyone in South Africa who has a belief system that doesn't happen to be sitting in the big seat in government.

Some Pagans do not seem to agree however. In the midst of this issue, there are still Pagans who argue that such a law criminalizing use of the words 'Witch' or 'witchcraft' - and the practices which they describe - is a good thing, and that Pagans and especially Wiccans (and Witches) need to distance themselves from using these terms because of the African connotations relating to muti.

Proponents for the ORC and for laws such as this have in the past argued that the "witchcraft" they refer to is "not  the European version" but the "African version" which according to them is "different" - which, well it probably is, culturally speaking - but they were referring in their minds at least to the practice of muti, the dealing in human body parts for "power magic". (Naturally it goes without saying that such a practice would be 'harmful' - but is already illegal anyway.)

These proponents will probably do so again too - although for the record, African traditional healers and practitioners of traditional magic have also indicated that the association of African magical beliefs and practice with the word "witchcraft" was imposed upon them through European colonialism, and that traditional healers do not identify as "witches", nor do they identify their practices as "witchcraft". In so doing, the application of the words to refer to African traditional healers and their beliefs and practices is invalid.

This leaves those whose beliefs, identity and practices rest in European Witchcraft as the sole parties with a claim to the identity of "Witch" and "witchcraft". That just serves to further invalidate the argument these "anti-witchcraft Pagans" seem to have against the usage of the words "Witch" and "witchcraft". 

If people want to identify as Witches and to practice Witchcraft, let them - as long as they break no real-world laws. After all, that's what Christians expect of everyone else, right?

As the Alternative Religions Forum's slogan says: "Religion isn't a crime - CRIME is crime."

The problem comes in where one social group rubs its collective chin and perceives a traditional mortal enemy climbing up a rung or two to come sit beside them with the same rights and equality they have been enjoying all along - and doesn't like it. No, no - this won't do - they're not going to stand for this! And thus you have prejudice, bias and the misinformed and above all ignorant superstitions about a group creeping into organs of state through the proponents of a domineering religion who see equality with people from a group that has endured many years of oppression under the previous dispensation and whom they collectively know little about and perceive and portray as being 'lesser', 'dangerous' and 'a threat' - and who harbor the intention to 'do something' about it. 

To be fair, politicians and lawmakers are entitled to be religious as much as anyone else is - however, they are NOT supposed to allow their religious beliefs to interfere in their impartiality. The Home Affairs official doesn't agree with two gay guys getting married because it offends his own beliefs? Too bad - he doesn't have to like it or agree with it - but it's his JOB to issue the papers, sign them and process them. It's the citizen's RIGHT to receive the same service as everyone else, not a privilege - and the offended religious person behind the counter DOES NOT have the right or privilege to refuse to provide that service.

People in the state department - Home Affairs in particular - have got away with this nutfuckery for years now. I know how it goes already, having been party to several such cases in my city - the whiny drama queen official refuses to assist the gay couple with their civil union papers, and then while twenty officials sit there watching, eating their smilies and bunny chows, the department can't find anyone on staff willing to do it because they have all suddenly come down with religion (except when they are whoring at clubs, swimming in alcohol, showing off their tattoos and scoffing shellfish).

They delay the processes and collectively refuse to assist their clients on the excuse that it offends their precious and fragile religious beliefs - but at the same time, they are being PAID to do a job, and they are not paid to be clerics - but to be secular officials of a secular state body in a secular state doing a secular job. Instead of cracking the whip on the offending officials, the department will typically refer the aggrieved clients to some third party to handle the wedding, which will be charged for, and will probably include travel and accommodation costs for someone from out of town - which is not only not the way to handle this balls-up, but is also adding insult to what is already an injury.

If you are being paid to do a job providing a service which includes a, b, and c to all members of the public - which employees of the state are, since the state is not permitted to discriminate; and you choose not to provide that service to particular individuals based upon your religious 'convictions' - then you aren't actually DOING that job. 

In the state department, your religious beliefs are not supposed to interfere with your capacity to perform your job. If you do allow your beliefs to interfere with your duties, or with your impartiality, you should pack your little bag and toddle off to ask InterCape - where they still conduct prayer services and play only gospel videos on their buses - for a job.

Religious bias is apparent within the formulation of many laws being passed today which are meant to be enacted by IMPARTIAL lawmakers who are supposed to act in the best interest of ALL South Africans, of ALL social groups - including people who may identify themselves as Witches - or even Vampyres - and in fact, everyone

All this highlights a bigger issue - our own government and leaders do not understand the Constitution, or they have a very poor grasp of it. That's why today there is still an ongoing legal battle between the Department of Education and OGOD to get religious discrimination, persecution and indoctrination out of state-run schools. The fact that the Department apparently does not even see what it has been doing since forever - and completely ignored the Constitution on this - as a clear violation of a significant portion of South African's civil rights, is very telling indeed. You see, it's not okay to have state-run schools using taxes drawn from diverse cultural and religious South Africans in order to forcibly indoctrinate them into ONE religion and using the authority of the state to do it. That would make that religion a STATE RELIGION, and that would make South Africa a theocracy.

South Africa stopped having a state religion with the adoption of the new constitution - the one many people in SA have been trying very hard, and rather successfully, to ignore. I know this because our Constitution does NOT contain the words "In humble submission to almighty God..." - they were in the previous Constitution - the one that was cherished by the previous government.. you know - the one that thought having people separated and treated differently because of their race, language and religion was a good idea.

While the Constitution contains many protections FROM religion, it also contains numerous protections FOR religion - a damn sight too many to my liking, because for example, while it is illegal for people to vent hate speech and incite violence against any person on the grounds of race, ethnicity, language sexual orientation or gender - it is perfectly LEGAL to do so against LGBT people if the context is religious. Don't believe me? Look it up in Promulgation of Equality Act, Act No 4 of 2000 and check in the Constitution.

By Constitution, South Africa is a secular state - meaning that there is NO STATE religion. No religion may be banned or criminalized by the state. No religion may be advanced above others by the state or by organs of state... yet back in 2009 there was the "Zuma's God Squad" fiasco, where Zuma and the ANC government allowed a Christian fundamentalist prosperity cult masquerading as a church the full use of its offices, stationary and phone lines to pursue the role of Christian advisors to the the State in lieu of the SA Council of Churches while it sought and received state assistance in undermining LGBT rights in SA. (Article 1, 2)

Yes, you can have religion in your private schools, in churches and temples and mosques and synagogues, in your homes and anywhere else - you're entitled to that. It is your RIGHT. Nobody can take that away from you - well, unless they change the Constitution - or just ignore it... I trust that comparison didn't go to waste? You can have religious material all over your business if you want to, if you think you won't scare away customers. Everywhere - except in state-owned or state-run facilities. That means not in the military, not in the police, nor in government schools, hospitals, court rooms, or parliament etc. At least, not according to the Constitution.

That by its very description defines a secular state - yet when I stated back in 2009 that South Africa is a secular state, newspaper journalists stated that "she said South Africa is a secular country" in such a way as to indicate that a) they didn't agree with me, or b) didn't know if it is. Back in 1996 the country was flooded with copies of SA's new constitution - people got sick of hearing about it - but did everyone read it? Does anyone born since 1996 even know what's in it? I had four or five copies myself at one time. Do YOU have access to a copy? Does anyone even know what it says? Do they teach it at school? They might teach you some things in school worth knowing these days, like which end of a pen to hold, or how to draw an 'x' in a box or to cross the street safely - but do they have civics classes yet? Probably not. It's far more important to be able to do a menial job for some corporation at slave labor rates when you leave school than it is to know your civil rights, or how government is supposed to work, or to have a clue about politics and who not to vote for.

People who do not hold to particular shared beliefs do not have to go to places where these beliefs are practiced, such as religious temples, churches and so on. If you're not a Hindu and you don't want to be party to a Hindu ceremony, then you have the choice to not go to a Hindu shrine. Religion is not forced on the public by institutions such as banks or most larger businesses. You won't go shopping at Checkers for example to find them playing gospel music or preaching whatever sermons to the shoppers - so why should a diverse public be forced to put up with this sort of gross disrespect to their beliefs in state-run facilities, and places of work?

Why do South Africans have the mentality that says when a manic street preacher accosts diverse members of the public in a public street, shouting obscenities about other religions, they should 'shut up' and 'show respect' to their beliefs?

When people have other people's belief systems forced on them in public spaces, and by the state, and in state-run facilities, the very act invalidates any lofty words about equality, impartiality and secularism. It spits in the eye of 'respect for others' and tramples on their rights and literally shreds, burns and buries the Constitution upon which this country is built. It brings home the truth of disrespect, the sting inequality, bias and prejudice, and creates uncertainty about the future - for

if the government can selectively ignore whatever parts of the Constitution it desires, at will - and get away with it - who is to say what parts they will ignore next? 

The Constitution is meant to level the playing field between all classes, cultures, races, religions and social groupings - but over the past two decades it has been subverted, perverted and in many cases, increasingly ignored.

Despite this advanced Constitution which was put together by some of the best legal and human rights minds on the planet at the time, it's been happening regardless. It happened in 2007 when the WSA was signed into law. It happened in 2012 when the SAPS pushed ahead with their Occult Related Crime unit even after being exposed in a scandalous leaked email. It happened in 2014 when an MEC for Education declared 'war' on a religious minority based upon her own personal ignorance and religious bias. It happened yesterday morning when your children were made to attend Christian ritual at school assembly or in bible study. It happened this morning when you went to work and got sucked into a prayer meeting despite not being a Christian. And it will happen again tomorrow.


If you would like to know more about Christina Engela and her writing, please feel free to browse her website.

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All material copyright © Christina Engela, 2019.


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