After nearly a week since the SA Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA) sent out a press release about the perceived dangers of the “occult related crime unit” alluded to in a leaked SAPS internal memo, two articles on the matter have finally appeared in mainstream newspapers.
The first appeared yesterday in the Daily Sun (link to the online version of the article here). The tone of the article – although on the front page – was far more of a sarcastic tongue-in-cheek romp which turned what is really a serious threat to the freedoms and well being of a portion of South African society, into a weak joke. In fact, of the entire 22 page memorandum SAPRA sent to both the SAPS and the Press, only one line from it was actually used in the article. The rest simply poked fun at the idea of the SAPS trying to arrest ghosts and chase poltergeists. They completely missed the point that the ORCU would be focusing on people in alternate religions and spiritualities or identity groups as “the usual suspects”.
The ORC unit, which according to the leaked SAPS memo, will focus on the following areas:
“1. Witchcraft-related offences, including black magic, witch finding and witch purging
2. Traditional healers involved in criminal activities rooted in the occult
3. Curses intended to cause harm
4. The practice of voodoo intended to cause harm
5. Vampirism and joint infringement of the Human Tissues Act
6. Harmful cult behaviour that infringes on the rights of members of the movement
7. Spiritual intimidation, including astral coercion
8. Vandalism / graffiti leaving evidence that the motive is occult related
9. Suicide leaving evidence of occult involvement
10. Ritualistic abuse in a cult setting
11. Allegations of rape by a tokoloshe spirit
12. Animal mutilation and sacrifice leaving evidence of occult involvement
13. Murder / human sacrifice leaving evidence of occult involvement
14. Interpretation of occult “signatures” and paraphernalia at a crime scene
15. Poltergeist phenomena (unexplained activities by paranormal disruptive
While the premise of a police unit intending to investigate 90 percent of the listed items is nothing short of ridiculous, the potential for serious harm coming to those who seem set to be treated with prejudice and suspicion by the so-called “occult experts” (some of whom are reportedly former police operatives associated to the former unit of similar foundations disbanded in 2000 due to its unconstitutional basis, and who have been Christian pastors since).
According to the SAPS website, the “Occult Related Crimes Investigators Course” is only five days long! It’s surprising to consider that candidates “may” be able to learn all they need to know about the “occult” in just five days! At any rate, they would have to be very quick studies indeed.
Looking at the list of items in their focus, it is easy to see that the use of the term “occult” is also not clearly understood by the SAPS itself – and that the term is being used liberally and inappropriately as a blanket term to simply “lump” all non-Christian supernatural practices together. It seems that indigenous traditions (including muti-related murders and other crimes) are still being referred to as “witchcraft” when witchcraft is a totally different religion on its own, and from a completely unrelated culture entirely, being of European origin. This faux pax too is most likely from an ignorant and exclusively Christian viewpoint.
Further, how is vandalism and leaving graffiti an “occult” crime? How is carving a pentagram into a church door any different in the eyes of the actual law from say, leaving “Joe woz ‘ere” carved in a city park bench? Oh, but it is – if there was some form of religious bias in the law – or in law enforcement. Surely at the root of it all, it is still vandalism of someone else’s property – and should be treated as that, and not as some “special” class of invented crime intended to intimidate anyone who happens to wear a pentacle round their necks and for whom the symbol holds a special or deep personal significance?
I wonder – how do you prove a curse in a court of law? How do you prove someone practiced “voodoo” with the intention to cause harm? I can imagine the complainant pointing a finger, crying: “He did a love spell on me, Officer – arrest him!” or “My business went all tits up – it’s her fault for putting a curse on me!” Seriously?
It is obvious, even at a cursory glance, that this sort of “list of things to look out for” will lead to people of any religious groupings they suspect of doing such things being victimized and treated with suspicion – like criminals – simply because of their personal beliefs and to which religion they affiliate. This in itself is unconstitutional, and blatantly so.
Let’s take an example – will the ORCU be raiding Christian churches where the pastors encourage prayers of hate against others? What about the churches where people pray along to deny equal rights to minority groups, or pray for their destruction? What about the churches which persecute or discriminate against their own gay members? Surely these activities are harmful and constitute “ritual abuse” or “harmful cult behaviour that infringes on the rights of members of the movement”? Curious, I don’t see any Christian groups or entities listed here. Or this this somehow “different” simply because it is “Christians” doing the abusing and it is generally accepted practice? This ORCU thing is looking very one-sided.
It is old news already that when Christians do anything, good or bad, it is justified with “it is God’s will” and therefore everything is just “alright”. They tend to forget that by brute definition, Christianity is a cult too, and anything cult-related is “occult”. According to the law of the land, no religion is above another or should receive any bias from the State. This implies, also – and please excuse me for putting it this way – that no religions should be persecuted more than any other either.
In short – should such a unit exist, it should focus on ALL religions in SA – or NONE. Any of the harm in the listed points (which is based on perceived consequences of supernatural acts) is already linked to existing laws and law enforcement routine – why is it necessary to create special “task forces” to single out minority religious groups – and to focus on “crimes” for which no legal precedent or actual law exists – and further, which cannot be proven in court?
If you consider the number of people killed, assaulted or displaced in this country every year simply on the accusation of “witchcraft” – people who have no connection to the religion of witchcraft or even the practice of magic in its entirety whatsoever – then surely setting such parameters for a police unit is simply encouraging more of the same?
The SAPRA under the guidance of Damon Leff, has been engaging with the SA government over the past several years to educate the rural population – and the SAPS members who deal with them, about their misconceptions surrounding alternate belief systems. Surely the sane course of action on the part of government would be to include sensitivity training in understanding the differences between real crimes and criminal activity (their core business) – and people using superstition and suspicion as a justification to commit crimes against people they have grievances with?
In today’s Citizen there is a much more serious and professional take on the situation, which it is believed will negatively and directly affect both Pagan and Vampyre communities.
Although neither of the articles address the topic of vampyrism, or the existence of the Vampyre Community, it is still an open question as to how this development would, realistically, affect our community – if at all. Time will tell, as it always does.
Meanwhile, according to the Citizen, their questions to the SAPS went unanswered. The SAPRA has also not received any response to the 22 page memorandum of objection sent to SAPS.