Site icon Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast

Witch-Hunting in Modern South Africa with Damon Leff

Witch-Hunting in Modern South Africa with Damon Leff Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast

DescriptionLearn with us! Damon Leff of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance Advocacy Against Witch Hunts shares about South Africa’s alleged witch situation. We learn about South Africa’s belief in the occult, magic, witchcraft and muti. This interview considers the common denominators and differences between past and present witchcraft hunts.  We discuss how interventions must recognize regional and cultural nuances and the discriminative risks of law reform. “In South Africa, in almost all cases of accusation of witchcraft, the accused will:a. not be offered access to legal defense against the accusations,b. not be considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law,c. be driven from their communities,d. lose their homes as a result of arson,e. be forcibly separated from their families, loved ones and friends,f. be placed in custody by the South African Police Services, ostensibly for their own safety, spending at least one night in a prison cell to avoid being attacked by members of their own community,g. may never return to their homes and communities of birth, andh. be forced into unwilling exile in unofficial and unacknowledged refugee camps.”LinksAdvocacy Against Witch Hunts, South AfricaProject 135: Review of the Witchcraft Suppression Act 3 of 1957Witchcraft Suppression Act 3 of 1957Please sign the petition to exonerate those accused of witchcraft in ConnecticutConnecticut Witch Trial Exoneration ProjectEnd Witch Hunts MovementSupport the showJoin us on Discord to share your ideas and feedback.WebsiteTwitterFacebookInstagramLinkedInYouTubeTikTokDiscordBuzzsproutMailchimpSupport the show

Show Notes

Learn with us! Damon Leff of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance Advocacy Against Witch Hunts shares about South Africa’s alleged witch situation. We learn about South Africa’s belief in the occult, magic, witchcraft and muti. This interview considers the common denominators and differences between past and present witchcraft hunts. We discuss how interventions must recognize regional and cultural nuances and the discriminative risks of law reform. “In South Africa, in almost all cases of accusation of witchcraft, the accused will:
a. not be offered access to legal defense against the accusations,
b. not be considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law,
c. be driven from their communities,
d. lose their homes as a result of arson,
e. be forcibly separated from their families, loved ones and friends,
f. be placed in custody by the South African Police Services, ostensibly for their own safety, spending at least one night in a prison cell to avoid being attacked by members of their own community,
g. may never return to their homes and communities of birth, and
h. be forced into unwilling exile in unofficial and unacknowledged refugee camps.”
Advocacy Against Witch Hunts, South Africa
Project 135: Review of the Witchcraft Suppression Act 3 of 1957
Witchcraft Suppression Act 3 of 1957
Please sign the petition to exonerate those accused of witchcraft in Connecticut
Connecticut Witch Trial Exoneration Project
End Witch Hunts Movement
Join us on Discord to share your ideas and feedback.

Support the show


Josh Hutchinson: This is Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast. Happy New Year, and welcome to our first episode of 2023. I'm Josh Hutchinson. 
Sarah Jack: And I'm Sarah Jack. 
Josh Hutchinson: Today's guest is Damon Leff of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance. We're going to be speaking with him about their project Advocacy Against Witch Hunts. 
Sarah Jack: Because you like the show and our guests, please share with your friends, family, and followers.
Josh Hutchinson: I hope you're all enjoying a nice 2023 and had festive holiday [00:01:00] season and aren't too cold.
Sarah Jack: We're barely into the year, and I've already had a birthday, Josh. 
Josh Hutchinson: Wow. Happy birthday, Sarah. 
Sarah Jack: Thank you. 
Josh Hutchinson: Sarah's our very own New Year's baby.
In this new year, we're bringing to you a new subject. You've heard Sarah speak in her news reports about the crisis in South Africa and other nations around the world, and today we focus on modern-day witchcraft accusations and violence in South Africa. 
Sarah Jack: We're able to start talking about this with you. Damon reached out to us after the launch of our podcast. After hearing our interest in sharing world witch-hunt news, he introduced himself to us and started sharing his [00:02:00] background and some powerful things that have been happening over there, and we are just so glad that we heard from him. Damon is helping us look through a new lens at his country.
Josh Hutchinson: Our conversations with Damon have been instrumental in the formation of our nonprofit, End Witch Hunts, which aims, through education of witch-hunts, both historical and modern-day, to curb the current crisis of accusations and violence against those alleged to have committed witchcraft. We hope through our group that we can amplify voices like Damon's, like Leo Igwe's, these other activists in the countries most affected by the witchcraft accusations. 
Sarah Jack: Our [00:03:00] conversation with Damon is always an open door. At any time I have a question, he is willing to give me information and support. So this is the type of collaboration that is going to power the currents that are making the changes. Each of these countries have their own specific struggles around stopping Witch Hunts or improving their response for alleged witches who have been through horrible circumstances, but talking and sharing and teaching builds creative solutions. It brings experiences from different communities. End Witch Hunts wants to hear voices like Leo [00:04:00] and Damon, who are actively experiencing the witch accusation atmosphere of their country and looking for solutions.
Josh Hutchinson: Conversations like the one we have with Damon today are so critical in helping those of us who are not in the countries affected by witchcraft accusations to understand what the situation is and what needs to be done. It's important for us to echo their voices and amplify their message and support them in whatever way they need us to or want us to ask us to. We want to, stand with them against this activity, but it's important to let those [00:05:00] in the affected nations do what they need to do without getting in their way and trying to tell them what to do from the outside. They're on the ground. They've got the experience. They know the cultures, they know the language, they know the situation, they know the people involved, and they know how to get things done. So we want to just give them a platform for their voice to be heard and just stand behind them as they do this important work. 
Sarah Jack: In this episode, you're going to hear from Damon the action that he and his alliance have been taking to make progress and get important things done for their community.
Josh Hutchinson: You're going to learn some of the history of the [00:06:00] Witchcraft Suppression Act that's on the books right now. You're going to learn the background and some details about how the accusations are made, why they're made, who makes them, what the result is when the accusations are made, and you're also going to learn the hopeful side of things from Damon, that voices are being heard speaking out against witchcraft accusations and change is likely. He has told us that witchcraft accusations are declining in South Africa.
Sarah Jack: When you're hearing about some of the situations, the common denominators really pop out. Listen to those, think about how what you're hearing may be reminiscent of [00:07:00] historical witch-hunts in New England and what does that mean for what we need to do for the communities and countries that aren't able to move forward right now against witchcraft violence.
Josh Hutchinson: Many in these nations are motivated by fear the same way that those involved in historic witchcraft accusations were motivated by fear. Knowing the modern-day situation gives you insight into the past, and knowing the past gives you insight into the present. And that's why we believe strongly in witch trial education. We believe it's important to understand what's happened before and what's happening now, so that we can eliminate these harmful practices related to witchcraft accusations [00:08:00] and prevent similar injustice from occurring in our own countries and elsewhere in the world. 
Sarah Jack: And now Josh is going to share background information on this episode's topic.
Josh Hutchinson: Before we talk to Damon, I wanna give you a little background on a couple of the things that we'll be talking about. First, I'll describe the history of the Witchcraft Suppression Act, and then I'm going to tell you about the Occult Related Crimes Unit of the South African Police Service.
The history of the Witchcraft Suppression Act goes back to the British Witchcraft Act of 1735, which prohibited witch-hunts and executions, but also outlawed pretending, in the words of the law, to use supernatural or occult powers. [00:09:00] Between 1604, when a previous witchcraft act was passed which encouraged witch-hunting and 1735, sentiments towards witch-hunting had changed enough that the authorities believed that more harm was caused by fraudulent magical practitioners preying upon the poor and selling them a false bill of goods. And so they got rid of the killing of alleged witches and decided to focus on fraud .
That law, the Witchcraft Act of 1735, took effect in parts of southern Africa when the British occupied the Cape of Good Hope in 1795, and that law applied during subsequent British occupations [00:10:00] and remained in place following the 1814 ceding of the Cape of Good Hope from Netherlands to Britain. In 1886, the law was succeeded by the Native Territories' Penal Code, which prohibited witchcraft accusations, witch-finding, employing so-called "witch doctors," using harmful magic, and using medicines with the intent to injure.
The 1886 law was then replaced by the Witchcraft Suppression Act of 1895, which was much the same, but also deemed all payment for witchcraft services to have been the result of fraud. In 1957, the Union of South Africa passed a new Witchcraft Suppression Act, which maintained prohibitions on witchcraft accusations, witch-finding, and harmful [00:11:00] witchcraft practices, while adding provisions outlawing identifying as a witch or taking money to pretend, in the language of the law, to use supernatural or occult powers.
That law has been irregularly enforced over time, with the police sometimes being able to act on witchcraft accusations and witch finding, but other times being behind the ball. And that act, through its provision to outlaw identifying as a witch, does not permit persons practicing Wicca or other pagan faiths to identify as witches.
In 1992, the South African Police Service established an Occult Related Crimes Unit. This outfit was [00:12:00] initially led by Dr. Kobus Jonker and was created in reaction to South Africa's Satanic Panic, being empowered to investigate crimes with supposed connections to occult or satanic activity. When Jonker retired, he was officially replaced by Attie Lamprecht but has apparently continued to serve. In 2006, Lamprecht announced that the unit was disbanded. However, later investigations revealed that the unit was merely reorganized and renamed the Harmful Religious Practices Unit and made up of officers trained in occult crime investigations by Jonker.
We'll hear from Damon about how they're fighting the Witchcraft Suppression Act, trying to get it repealed. However, the South African Law Reform Commission is recommending that the current law be repealed but be [00:13:00] replaced with a new Prohibition of Harmful Practices and Unlawful Accusations of Harmful Witchcraft Practices Act, which would prohibit witchcraft accusations, witch-finding, crimes associated with harmful witchcraft, and muti killings, which are murders performed to make medicine from human body parts.
The changes would be to eliminate the provisions outlawing self-identification as a witch and claims to possess supernatural powers or occult skills or knowledge, and to add the provision dealing with muti murder. As we'll hear from Damon, muti murder is a problem but can be dealt with in other ways than a new, basically a new Witchcraft Suppression Act. It's murder [00:14:00] for the sake of murder, and we'll talk to Damon about that. And it should be against the law against murder and against the law against trafficking human tissues, and Damon argues those laws that are currently on the books should be enough to deal with muti murder and other harmful actions committed peripherally to witchcraft. It's good that they'll still prohibit witchcraft accusations and witch-finding. They just need to enforce those elements of the law. 
Sarah Jack: Josh, thank you for introducing important details that will be discussed in this episode. 
Josh Hutchinson: You're welcome. I hope it's of some value to the listeners to clarify [00:15:00] the situation before we get into the details with Damon.
Sarah Jack: I'm so happy to welcome Damon Leff of South African Pagan Rights Alliance and Advocacy Against Witch Hunts.
 It's been extremely enriching for us to start to grasp the context of what's going on there. My mind has really started doing a lot of things, so I know this conversation's gonna be really important to my knowledge.
Josh Hutchinson: And to our audience. 
Damon Leff: Hopefully, they can begin to piece connections between past events and current events and see similarities. I can already see similarities. The question that keeps being asked is what drives people to make accusations of witchcraft, and that's different for each context. Each place has its own unique variables that cause people to make accusations of witchcraft, but they are common denominators, [00:16:00] beginning to piece those together, which is why your podcasts have really helped do that.
Sarah Jack: That's what we want. And consulting with so many different researchers and such a variety of individuals is so critical now. So we're really glad we started stepping down the path the way we did. 
Damon Leff: Good. 
Josh Hutchinson: What is the South African Pagan Rights Alliance?
Damon Leff: The South African Pagan Rights Alliance is, at the moment, a paralegal advocacy organization. We started out as an informal gathering of like-minded individuals who realized that we needed some kind of organization that could help individual pagans challenge incidents of discrimination. And essentially we started out as an activist organization.
Very few of us had actual any experience, nevermind running an organization, but dealing with issues of [00:17:00] prejudice and discrimination. So we learned what we needed as we went along. And of course, our real focus was learning how to use the voice, the activist's voice, to promote change. And the first way we did that was to challenge media bias against paganism, against witchcraft, as well in the media.
To give you historical context before our interim constitution in 1994, which guaranteed the right to freedom of religion, and before the final constitution in 1996, there was no law on our statute book which protected the right to religious freedom. And although the Apartheid government did not exhibit any overt prejudice against non-Christian faiths, it was clearly a white Christian nationalist party that governed the country. And so their interests were very much focused on Christianity. [00:18:00] And unfortunately, it wasn't a friendly kind of Christianity. It wasn't an inviting Christianity. It was one that definitely had barriers between those who were in and those who were out.
And so if you were not Christian, you were on the out camp. And so people who practiced non-normative religions, occultism, people who were involved in magical practices, witches, specifically, were definitely on the outside. And society didn't really cater for them in any way, but this gave an opportunity to people with prejudice within institutions, with instructional institutions in government to begin to promote things like the Satanic Panic, which of course America experienced before we did. But our Satanic panic really hit us in the seventies and the eighties. It became the reason for the Occult Crime Unit's establishment under Colonel Kobus Jonker, and he led faux [00:19:00] investigations into what he alleged were occult crimes. But in the process he and members of his unit, now you must remember that this unit was firmly entrenched within the South African Police Services, so it had the full authority and backing of government. And although there wasn't any law against the practice of non-normative faiths, and again, there was no protection for non-normative faiths, there, there wasn't any real legislative requirement for the South African police service to persecute, harass, discriminate against non-normative faiths.
But they did that under the Occult Crime Unit, and the prejudice led to the publishing of a series of articles by members of the unit on alternate faiths, specifically on witchcraft, on the practice of occultism, the practice of magic. The content of these articles were not based on reality or fact. It wasn't as if they interviewed members of those faiths to find out what they believe or what they [00:20:00] practice. The approach was "Jesus is a salvation for all people who are not Christian. And these people are clearly worshiping the devil. They are satanists, and, therefore, they need to be saved." That was the philosophical motivation for the funding of the Occult Crime Unit. 
So much of our first years, first 10 years of our existence we spent a lot of time browsing through media, published media and online media, and we began to challenge the ideology of the unit itself. We were partly safe because of the interim constitution. The 1994 Constitution gave us some kind of protection from persecution, direct persecution. So that's how we began the Alliance by challenging media prejudice. Eventually, we got to know a couple of the journalists, we got to know the editors of newspapers, and they began to see what we were saying about prejudice narrative. And they began to reject the prejudicial narratives, [00:21:00] because they were clearly not based in any kind of reality. This eventually led us to realize that we needed to get more involved in actual cases of discrimination.
So I studied law in my late fifties. I started studying law and became a paralegal. And currently what we are doing is we are training members of the Pagan community in South Africa to become community paralegals. So giving them the tools and the skills that they need to actually directly challenge the incidents of discrimination within their communities. This way, it's far easier to respond to incidents of discrimination. We simply need to pick up a phone and say the person is having this problem with employer, family, police, and they can intervene. That's our goal. We would like to work toward that. We spent most of our existence challenging discrimination against, religious discrimination from Christians, and then we [00:22:00] focused our attention in 2007 on the repeal of the Witchcraft Suppression Act. 
Josh Hutchinson: It was the first time I heard of the Occult Crimes Unit, and I find that detail fascinating.
Damon Leff: I think they lost their reason to exist once the 1996 Constitution was enacted, because the Constitution expressly protects the right to religious freedom, belief, and opinion, and so they couldn't hold a partisan Christian position any longer. They certainly couldn't base any of their police activities on that partisan religious position. They needed to start looking at issues like equality, the right to dignity. So that certainly helped us, and eventually it took the steam out of the crime unit itself, because they no longer had any reason to exist. 
Sarah Jack: What can you tell us about the current crisis? 
Damon Leff: I'm happy [00:23:00] to say that in 2022 we haven't had one reported incident of a witch-hunt in our country, which is probably the first time since before two thousands, we started keeping records of incidents of witchcraft accusations that led to violent Witch Hunts in 2000 and every year we watched the numbers increase, decrease. It was sporadic. 
Accusations of witchcraft in our country are sporadic, unlike in America where there were focused, targeted in specific areas, where law enforcement got involved, where there were actual trials. In South Africa, accusations of witchcraft are sporadic. They happen within communities across the country. And very often the accused is summarily killed, executed, whether stoned to death, killed with a machete, set on fire in a house, often with family members, long before the police even get involved. So the reports very often are post [00:24:00] event. 
We've kept track of horrific incidents of accusations of witchcraft against mostly women. There have been exceptions of men. Thankfully, I can only recall one accusation against a child, unlike a Nigeria, where many accusations of child witchcraft occur. In South Africa, that doesn't seem to be a feature of accusations of witchcraft. 
Listening to your podcast over the last couple of months has raised for me the issue of context and how certain witchcraft accusations happen in certain places around the world at certain times. Certainly we can see common denominators. In South Africa, it's difficult to find a common denominator between individual incidents other than people exhibiting emotional angst, moral panic because of unexplained illnesses, unexplained deaths. 
[00:25:00] Sometimes these belief systems are culturally-based. For example, there are a number of incidences where, accusations of witchcraft were made against goats or crows. Odd animals. Animals that didn't necessarily belong in the village, that suddenly appeared randomly. One could say that those accusations were motivated by a cultural belief system, a folklore. In the most horrific cases, there were sudden deaths in a village, and an old woman who may not have been liked by that particular family was accused. 
Now, most accusations are instantaneous. One family will accuse another family, and, of course, if one person in their family is accused, the entire family is implicated in the accusation, because in African traditional culture, there is a belief that witchcraft runs through the breast, which means that if the mother is a witch, her children will be a witch because of breastfeeding. [00:26:00] So the family doesn't escape the consequence of that accusation. 
And in one particular incident, an old lady was accused of a major accident, in which the son of a neighboring woman was killed, and she was accused of having cast a spell on the road in which that accident occurred. And at the time of the accusation, the entire village surrounded her house. She was inside, her older daughter was inside, her older daughter's two children were inside. They were all killed. They were all murdered, one with machete, one was set alight. The two children were trapped in the house when the house was set alight. Horrific. 
These are the incidents that nobody can intervene immediately to prevent, because they occur in communities in which nobody will question the narrative that one, their misfortune was caused by witchcraft, that therefore there must be a witch, a local, [00:27:00] somebody with whom you've possibly had an argument in the past, somebody with whom you've possibly not really gotten on. Perhaps that person came from a village outside recently and moved into your area. So it's a complicated phenomena. I wouldn't say that those same motivations occur in every instance of accusation, but that seems to be a common thread. They're random, sporadic moments of panic that lead to the death of someone.
Thankfully, our police do intervene. In rare cases where, they are very rare, where a woman has been accused, she may in time or her family members may in time contact the local police, and the local police will then intervene. Unfortunately, the local police haven't really been trained ever to deal with these kinds of incidences, and so the only alternative for the police, the only action they can take is [00:28:00] to take that person outside of the village and put them in a prison cell for the evening for their own safety, which is horrific. To think that the accused must sit in a prison cell for her own safety for the evening. Almost all of those cases do end up in criminal courts. Thankfully, our criminal courts have looked very badly on accusations of witchcraft. Sentences haven't been as strong as they could have been.
And more recently there was an incident in a case in court, in which the accused claimed as mitigation in sentencing, that he only did what he did because he believed that this woman was a Witch. He believed in witchcraft as a bad thing, and this was a cultural belief that he held, and the magistrate gave him a lesser sentence because of his mitigating circumstances, which of course we've criticized because we don't think that's [00:29:00] appropriate. If you want to discourage accusations of witchcraft, you need to increase sentencing, not take a belief in witchcraft as a mitigating factor.
Josh Hutchinson: How do the local communities find the witch suspect? How do they determine who was the alleged? 
Damon Leff: In South Africa, we call it witch-finding. And the legislators have been using that term in the Witchcraft Suppression Act. So that entails, if for example, you've made an accusation against the neighbor, but you are uncertain and you want some clarity, you will go to the local diviner. The local diviner is either called an insangoma. Sometimes the nyanga, the herbalist, will also act as a diviner, but usually it's a very specialist field. In traditional African religion the use of herbs to make medicine for healing and the aspect of divination are very often separated, but not always. So in this case, the family [00:30:00] would seek out the local diviner. The local diviner would then throw bones, speak to the ancestors and ask the ancestors to confirm or deny the suspicion. Ultimately, unfortunately, always there's a confirmation, and that will then automatically lead to an attack a concerted attack against the accused person.
Customary history is a really tricky subject for anyone to pronounce factually about, because customary history is memory. It's a verbal and oral history. It hasn't really been written down. So experts in the field have been saying that prior to the arrival of European colonialists, African traditional belief systems dealt with accusations of witchcraft in a concerted way. When there was a suspicion, the diviner was called in to confirm the suspicion, a local tribal court would then be set up, the accused would be taken to the local [00:31:00] tribal court. The accused was not entitled to any kind of defense, so he or she had to defend themselves. An older family member may have assisted, but that would've been very dangerous, especially if the old family member would've insisted that person was innocent. They could very well have been implicated in the accusation as well. And then tribal courts would then mete out justice. I do know that, for example, if a husband accused his wife of witchcraft, the tribal court would then divorce them, separate them, and she would then be banished from the village. But in many cases, of course, she might equally have been killed.
Now because these cultural rules were not uniform across South Africa, remember we have a vast array of different tribes, Zulu, Xhosa, Sepedi, each different group would've had their own variations on these cultural rules. They all believed in the general malevolence of witchcraft, so an accusation of witchcraft may have arisen [00:32:00] in any one of these places.
With the arrival of colonialism, of course, we have a hybrid legal system. First the Dutch arrived, and they imposed Roman Dutch law. Now, amongst magistrates in Cape Town who imposed Roman Dutch law, and of course it was company law that was being imposed, essentially, accusations of witchcraft were not tolerated, so they were never heard, and they were summarily dismissed. 
When the English arrived and took over the Cape Colony, English law acknowledged that accusations of witchcraft existed, because they had dealt with their own history of accusations of witchcraft. And they had heard cases of accusations of witchcraft, but they took a very dim view of the accusers. They did not in any way give credence to the notion that real witches existed or that such persons had power to affect the world through non-natural or supernatural means. [00:33:00] So the accuser, the maker of the accusation, was generally convicted and sentenced. 
In 1957, we had just become a union, I think, and the 1957 Witchcraft Suppression Act was established. It was basically a copy of British witchcraft legislation, which on the one hand denied that one could be a witch or that witches had power. So therefore, making an accusation of witchcraft became a punishable offense. But at the same time, it made confessing to being a witch also a punishable offense. Under current law, Magistrate's Courts still often refer to the Witchcraft Suppression Act when dealing with accusations of witchcraft, and they apply the sentencing given in the Witchcraft Suppression Act for incidents.
Sarah Jack: What effects do witch attacks have on the surviving [00:34:00] families? 
Damon Leff: As I mentioned, the notion that witchcraft comes through the breast. When an individual in a family is accused, the entire family is suspect. Everybody in that immediate family is endangered. The potential accusation of witchcraft could be leveled against any one of them. So there is a hesitancy to defend the person who is accused, which is horrific. This immediately creates tension between members within a family. If a member of that family is accused and murdered, the entire family needs to leave. It's impossible for that family to continue to live in the same area. They will always be suspected of harboring this dark power of witchcraft. And so they need to leave the village that they live in. Very often, they would travel to a neighboring village, hopefully reaching that village [00:35:00] before news of the incident reaches that village. Because if the news of that incident reaches the village before they do, they would be denied entry to that village. 
 I remember, I think it was about 20 years ago, there was a documentary, Carte Blanche, a famous documentary. A film in SABC showed a couple, an old woman, an old lady, and her husband who had for a year been wandering from village to village, looking for a place where they could reestablish, because every time they arrived at a new place, there were family members of the previous village from which they had come. And so they couldn't stay there. 
And that's the horrific part of it, the shame. And it isn't. We call it shame, because that's how these people feel, but it isn't really a shameful thing to be a victim of an accusation. The accuser should be shamed, but the shame, they carry that shame with them, [00:36:00] and probably they would carry that shame with them through generations, because we are never dealing with just husband and a wife. We're dealing with a husband and a wife who has, African families always live together, except in cities where there is some separation. In traditional communities, families live together. Grandmother, grandfather, daughter, husband, children, grandchildren, all live in the same place. So it's a literal move of an entire family, generations of a family. 
But it doesn't just affect the family that's accused. It affects everybody in that village. The chaos unleashed by an accusation affects the youngest members of that entire village. That's traumatic. It has to be traumatic for young children to see this kind of violence and aggression, not completely to understand what's happening. And it will forever form a scar on that particular [00:37:00] group. I don't think that 10 years down the line, they could look back at what they did and feel okay with it. It's difficult for me to conceive that.
Josh Hutchinson: In traditional African practices, are there actually people for whom it's appropriate to use the label "witch?"
Damon Leff: A very good question, and it's one that we have discussed with traditional healers who joined us in our discussions on the repeal of the Witchcraft Suppression Act. In 2007, on behalf of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance, I initiated a review of the Witchcraft Suppression Act with the South African Law Reform Commission, and traditional healers were invited to join the discussion, pre-discussion, on whether or not that act should be repealed. And overall, the traditional healers felt that they agreed with us that the act should be repealed, but for very different reasons. 
And in our first initial discussions, we were trying to find [00:38:00] common ground, and we did find a lot of common ground. As pagan witches and traditional healers and traditional African religion, we share an enormous amount of common belief systems. We could call them folk belief systems, but the differences were also as stark. Phephisile Maseko, who was at the time the national coordinator for the Traditional Healers Organisation, the THO's one of the largest organizations representing traditional healers in South Africa. She explained that, within her organization, they had specialists who dealt specifically with issues of witchcraft, who dealt specifically with defining around issues of witchcraft and then creating charms to counter witchcraft. 
So for us, that would be, it reminds us of folk beliefs, folk magic used to counter negative witchcraft. And I asked, do you identify those people as [00:39:00] practitioners of magic, witchcraft? Definitely not, she said. Witchcraft is a negative word. Witchcraft means you harm someone using supernatural means. It never, ever means a positive. Nobody ever identifies as a witch, because it means you are admitting to harming other people.
Now, there is a huge problem here in that we are speaking English and they speak Zulu and Suju and Xhosa, and they have their own terms for that specific practice. And perhaps in their mind it does actually accord with the idea of a folk magic practitioner who uses white magic to counter dark magic. But that didn't come through in our conversation, certainly not in our English conversation.
So that's a question that still needs to be explored. [00:40:00] But as a rule, if you're a black African, you don't identify as a witch. What I've seen in a forum on Facebook for witches is that there are more and more younger black South Africans who are looking at paganism, European paganism. It's for them not unfamiliar because they see commonality between the traditional African religion, which their grandparents and mothers were raised. And they see a lot of commonalities, a lot of similarities, but they're more and more attracted to the archetype of the witch and witchcraft, the practice of witchcraft. And they're very open about it on the forum, but of course, we are mindful that they all live in very conservative families and that they actually are in danger. I don't think any of them admit to their parents that they have decided to become a witch, that they want to practice witchcraft. 
So there still is definitely that fear around the word. And avoidance of [00:41:00] identifying the term with the term, using the term. In our review of the Witchcraft Suppression Act, for example, at one stage we made a point of reminding the commission that when dealing with accusations of witchcraft, they need to remember that we are self-identified witches. So we should be accorded the right to define what witchcraft means for us and our identification.
Our definition of what witchcraft is or means for us should actually carry more weight than the definition of accusations or the definition of witchcraft that is, are used in accusations. I'll give you a simple example. X might accuse Y of summoning a Tokaloshe to steal the milk from her car. Now a Tokoloshe is a local variant of a gnome or an elf, [00:42:00] a nature spirit that is attached to a magic worker and that serves the magic worker as a slave. And the magic work can send the slave out cause harm or mischief. We see those stories in European folklore. We see it in American folklore. The question is, is the belief in a Tokoloshe less valid than the European belief in elves and fairies? But is the belief that all women who are witches evil less valid than the acknowledgement that people are not evil because of what they are, but because of what they do? 
We've been trying to encourage them not to stereotype people simply because we've named them witches. And this is where traditional healerism and actual witches have found conflict, sources of conflict, because they don't want to give up their prejudicial [00:43:00] definition of what a witch is. For them it's a cultural belief system, and it's as important for them as our religious ideology and identity is for us. So there is source of conflict there. 
Sarah Jack: Why is the targeted group mostly vulnerable people, especially women and elderly women in particular? 
Damon Leff: I wish I could answer that question. I think their vulnerability makes them easy targets. I think their vulnerability means they don't have any influence over their community. They don't have any power. The power relationship is, they are useless, not important, negligible. I think essentially it comes down to that. In South Africa, we have an extremely epidemic level of gender-based violence against women, specifically by their male partners. And I think that is an aspect of it.
Why older women [00:44:00] are often the targets of witchcraft accusation, and of course, it's not exclusively older women, but older women generally become, are more, more likely to become targets of witchcraft accusation, because of that power dynamic. Government has attempted to deal with gender-based violence by appealing to the conscience of men, and I'm not sure that's going to work. I don't see the same man who is behaving violently toward a woman waking up the following morning and thinking, "oh wow, I think I should become a better person." So I don't know how we reestablish the power balance between men and older women in traditional societies. Older, traditional African societies are patriarchal. They're governed by men, not by a woman. It's very rare that an older woman would have authority over the men in a village. So that is an important factor to consider.
Josh Hutchinson: So is it [00:45:00] usually men who are making the accusations?
Damon Leff: No. Both men and women make accusations of witchcraft. The incident I told you about, the old woman who was accused of casting a spell on the road that caused the accident, that accusation was made by the mother of the guy who was killed in the truck. No, the accusations can come from anybody. I haven't seen any accusations originating from children, but yeah, definitely men and women can make accusations of witchcraft. 
We've also seen accusations of witchcraft being labeled at traditional healers, far fewer than one would think is the norm. But sometimes traditional healers will make accusations of witchcraft against other traditional healers, and that tells us that perhaps there is more economics at play. They're vying for the same commerce. 
There was also an incident where a local priest who ran a small church in an urban area, there was a rumor going around that he [00:46:00] kept snakes in his church and that he used the snakes as charms against his petitioners, and his church was attacked, and they wanted to kill him, because he was now a witch. The association between snakes and witches is very common in Africa. In much of central and northern Africa, the snake is the power animal that gives the witch her or his power. Yeah, accusations of witchcraft are largely irrational in that they can come from anyone and affect anyone.
Sarah Jack: What non legislative interventions are necessary to deal with harmful witchcraft practices?
Damon Leff: I've always held that if we don't challenge the narratives that lead to accusations, we don't have any hope in any kinds of legislation preventing violence. It's the same with gender-based violence. If we don't teach men to honor the dignity of women,[00:47:00] no matter how many laws we pass to punish men for committing violence against women, I doubt very much if that violence is going to stop.
Men need to begin to look at women in a different way. And likewise, people who make accusations of witchcraft need to begin to look at the subject in a different way. It's arrogant of me to suggest that we should impose a scientific way of thinking about the world on to African people who are still bound to their cultural beliefs about witchcraft, but I'm afraid that's the only way to do it. We need to challenge the narratives around witchcraft. The idea that a person can be born evil from birth, because there they're witches, whether they're male or female. That idea is contrary [00:48:00] to the notion of from the moment of birth, we have a right to dignity, that our birth doesn't determine who we become. It doesn't determine what we end up doing. We are not just because we've been accused of being a witch from birth automatically evil. We may be very good people. We may end up doing wonderful things for a lot of people. So we need to begin to challenge those narratives, and that can only be done on a very local level, on a grassroots level. That means that people who have trust, who have the power dynamic in those communities need to be the ones to have those conversations. Priests, traditional leaders, traditional healers themselves, need to begin to have those conversations. 
Can we look, for example, at the cultural narrative that we've inherited from our ancestors about witchcraft? And can we [00:49:00] challenge it? Is it true? Is everything that our ancestors told us about witches true? Tricky because all of these communities are built on veneration of ancestors. The ancestors are perfect. What they did cannot be challenged, cannot be questioned. So that narrative needs to be challenged and questioned.
That's the only way I see any kind of real change. I think by offering an alternative narrative on the subject generally does help, and it certainly has helped in attracting a younger audience to the study of magic and witchcraft generally. I don't know if that alternative narrative is going to actually get through to older generations, hopefully sufficiently so to make them stop and think, "my, my son has just died suddenly. Is it really witchcraft, or was there an underlying physiological cause for his illness?" [00:50:00] And that's gonna have to be a multifaceted approach to the subject. It's certainly not something that European witches can dictate. That would just be rude. 
Josh Hutchinson: I think that's important what you said, that the traditional leaders in the communities need to inspire that change. And you've also talked about the legal side of it and how you got involved with the Law Reform Commission to review the Witchcraft Suppression Act of 1957. What can you tell us about the Witchcraft Suppression Act and the review that's going on?
Damon Leff: The review, the initial request was in February 2007. In January 2016, the commission concluded that the Act's prohibition of identifying as a witch and practicing divinations were unconstitutional. Okay. And, essentially the commission has confirmed [00:51:00] that they are in favor of a repeal of the Witchcraft Suppression Act.
Most of the organizations and individuals who submitted comment to the review process has supported a repeal of the act, most except for traditional healers. Traditional healers want the act to be repealed, but they want the act to be replaced with an act that will essentially give them the right to take accusations of witchcraft within their communities to a traditional court, which rings alarm bells in my ears, because it reminds me instantly of Salem. It reminds me instantly of cases of witchcraft being heard in a court, not by a court who's going to apply a skeptical approach to the subject, but by a court who is going to appeal to cultural authority, to ancestral authority to hear those cases. [00:52:00] So this is something that we felt we needed to object to, which we did. We did send you a copy of our draft objection. And we challenged the draft bull that the traditional healers presented and the commission published for comment by pointing out that the definition of the bold was called a Prohibition of Harmful Practices and Unlawful Accusations of Harmful Witchcraft practices bull.
Now, the bull defines harmful witchcraft practice as invoking a claim to the ability to use non-natural or supernatural means, whether that involves the use of physical elements or not, to threaten or to cause death or injury or disease or disability or destruction or loss of damage to property of any kind or severe psychological distress or terror. On the face of it, the definition is a mouthful, but when you break it down, [00:53:00] essentially it is based on two terms, non-natural or supernatural means, and we've challenged those two as being irrational. Our courts need to present admissible evidence that is rational, that can be proven, and our opinion, we've never seen a court be able to prove non-natural or supernatural needs. There is no way to prove supernatural agency. So essentially, the definition of harmful witchcraft practice comes down to making a claim to have supernatural power or threatening someone with a claim that one has supernatural power and one can hurt, and neither of those claims can be supported, in essence, they're beliefs.
Now the Constitution gives everybody the right to believe freely. It doesn't matter how irrational it is. Our constitutional court [00:54:00] has clearly stipulated that it doesn't matter if we think the belief is entirely irrational. People have the right to believe it, but it doesn't mean that a court should hear it as factual. All the court can prove, at the most, is that somebody believes this. A court cannot prove that somebody who believes in God is, ipso facto proof that God exists. There's a difference between proving that someone believes in a God and proving that the God exists. Allowing someone to bring an accusation of witchcraft to a court of law is ridiculous, because there is no way that anybody can prove the agency of witchcraft involved. We can prove that someone has made an accusation, but we can't prove there is any supernatural agency.
 The second part of that, of course, is that making a threat, threatening someone by saying that, "oh, I have supernatural power. I'm gonna curse you and your family," [00:55:00] essentially, is an act of intimidation. It's an ordinary act of intimidation. Since we can't prove any supernatural element or agency, we must simply assume that the person is attempting to intimidate the other person. Anybody can intimidate. One doesn't need to be a, a witch to be intimidating. Is there any difference, for example, if a pastor gets up on the pulpit on a Sunday and screams hell and hellfire and threatens people with hell if they don't do the right thing? Is that not intimidating? So our position is anybody can make an intimidation against anyone else. That doesn't necessarily mean that there is any supernatural agency. And if the commission really wants to deal with accusations of witchcraft as intimidation, then it needs to be dealt with in another way. There are common law remedies to intimidation common law remedies to intimidation should be used.
We, for example, have criminal defamation, which could easily be used to open a criminal defamation [00:56:00] charge against someone who's made an accusation of witchcraft against you. You just need to go to a police station and say, "so-and-so has made an accusation of witchcraft. I want to open a criminal innuere charge." Court takes it further for you. 
Sarah Jack: What is that shift that's gonna kick that into gear? Does that have to be legislated, push the witchcraft issues under the other laws? 
Damon Leff: I think once we've gotten rid of the Witchcraft Suppression Act, a question I've often been asked is since we've got the Witchcraft Suppression Act, but actual witches are not being arrested by the police for claiming to have knowledge of witchcraft, which according to the act is illegal. So why do we need to even bother about the act? Clearly it's not targeted at us, but psychologically it is targeted at us, because it tells people generally whether they're consciously aware of it or not, that witchcraft is a taboo subject. Look, there's a law [00:57:00] against it. So therefore people who identify as witches are treated differently.
Subconsciously, we are treated differently because there is a law against witchcraft. If we take that away, we remove the underpinnings of legitimacy that an accusation of witchcraft could have, for example, where the law supported it. If the law had said, look, we can't deal with these issues, because you have the right to believe whatever you choose to, then suddenly that suspicion disappears. Now, witches are ordinary members of society that can be treated like ordinary members of society. There isn't an unconscious bias already against them for being witches. That would be one step. 
The question is, how then do we deal with future incidences of accusations of witchcraft? Do we need special legislation to deal with that? And I honestly don't believe that we do, because if we do, we'll end up just reinforcing the biases that we've been carrying with us all along. What we need to do is find [00:58:00] a different way to deal with accusations of witchcraft. 
Firstly, it's a multi-pronged approach. We need the police to be more proactive. Police need to be trained to deal with incidences of civil violence like this, where one person has been accused unjustly or falsely accused. The police in the past may even have suspected that the accusation was valid and so didn't want to get involved. So police need to be sensitized towards the issues at stake.
They need to be open to the accused when they come into a police station and to tell them that an accusation of which God has been made against them. They need to be sensitive to that person, not treat that person with suspicion. They need to provide that person with comfort and safety and security.
There should be a counselor, at least, that person can sit down and talk to, to deal with their anxiety and the experiences that they've just gone through. They should be a social worker to [00:59:00] deal with the crisis that is unfolding within that immediate family. What is going to happen? Are they going to be able to live in the same house tomorrow? And if not, is there alternative accommodation until they can find alternative accommodation? 
And then the process at the moment is for the accuser to be arrested, arraigned, and charged with offenses under the Witchcraft Suppression Act. In future, I foresee the accused bringing charges against the accuser directly through a common law process, an accusation of criminal innuere. Once the accusation has been made, the police and the court take over, and there is no requirement, there will not be any requirement on the accused person to get an attorney and launch a private action suit. So the state will still take care of it, just in a different way, without the intervention of the Witchcraft Suppression Act.
Let the common law deal with it. A criminal innuere charge is quite a serious charge. The [01:00:00] penalty could also include imprisonment. I think that's a good way to start with it. Keep promoting wholesome integrative narratives in the media about the subject. Keep encouraging traditional healers and traditional leaders to engage with their communities in a positive way, to offer them alternative narratives, to question the motives of accusations, to find alternative ways to settle disputes within communities. So a process, certainly not an overnight one.
Sarah Jack: Legislating a new law isn't a bandaid either.
Damon Leff: No, it's never going to be. We've had the 1957 act for how many years, 50 years plus, and it hasn't prevented accusations of witchcraft. One authority, an academic, who submitted a paper when the review [01:01:00] process first began, suggested that the existence of the act itself motivates the accusations, which I touched on briefly. Having an act that says being a witch is illegal or making accusations is illegal kind of encourages people to make accusations. I don't think legislation will ever bring an end to crime. The best thing that legislation can ever hope to do is deal with the after effects of the criminal act, is to provide justice, social justice, a restorative justice to the victims. But it could never prevent those crimes from happening. 
Sarah Jack: The supports you were talking about for the victims when they go in, having a counselor, having solutions, that sounds like the supports that have come to be important for victims of sexual assault. Do you guys have those in place for those types of crimes now? And then that can be a model for [01:02:00] supporting accused witches, because it's the same. It's that whole thing. It's that shameful stigma that is there, the trauma that's occurred to the innocent individual, and then the future. They're walking into the future now with these wounds. 
Damon Leff: You're absolutely right. And yes, we do have a model that we can follow. Recently the Minister of Justice instituted child courts and courts that deal specifically with gender-based violence. Those courts are staffed, hopefully, with social workers, with somebody who can approach the victim on a real level, offer support, comfort.
 The victim doesn't simply want justice. They're suffering from psychological trauma. And there is no difference, as you say, in practice between a victim of rape and a victim of accusation of witchcraft, especially not after they've been beaten and threshed and maybe [01:03:00] lost a family member.
The anxiety, the fear, the trauma, I don't think we sh we can compare the trauma, but I think the trauma is equal, so yes, hopefully that could become a model, or hopefully crimes targeted specifically at women, accusations of witchcraft crimes targeted a women could be dealt with in exactly the same way that victims of gender-based violence are dealt with. 
Josh Hutchinson: When you were talking about how the commission wants to replace the existing Witchcraft Suppression Act with a new bill against witchcraft and you were talking about how ineffective the Witchcraft Suppression Act has been at dealing with the violence, reading the Commission's report, it seemed like they admitted that the existing law's been ineffective, but then they're still saying, we need a new law that's basically the same thing. So why do you think that is [01:04:00] that they're speaking out of both sides of their mouth? 
Damon Leff: I think the commission is attempting to appease clearly two camps. There is the camp which includes us who agree that the Witchcraft Suppression Act should be repealed, who don't think that we need any other legislation to deal with issues that we are currently dealing with.
Almost all of those people have also said, look, let the common law deal with it. We have common law remedies. They're quicker, they're more efficient, let them deal with it. But then there is definitely the other camp, the traditional healers, the Family Policy Institute, there were a couple of other smaller organizations.
The gender commission insisted on including muti crimes under this new witchcraft bull. Now, muti crimes, I have to explain. These are violent incidences in which a traditional healer most often employs the use of thugs or criminals to kidnap, [01:05:00] mutilate and kill, in that order, kidnap, mutilate and kill persons, humans for body parts for later use in magic, let's say muti, which means medicine, but essentially it's negative folk magic. And the process has generally dealt with our courts as a crime, simple common law crime, murder and the illegal possession of human body parts. So there is no real need for additional legislation to deal with those crimes. They are heard in our criminal courts. Those responsible are convicted and sentenced to prison.
The gender commission felt that, I think they were motivated more by the increasing violence against women in our society, and this muti murders is one particular way in which women in our society are brutalized, especially young girls because it's generally children who are targeted [01:06:00] for some reason. So they felt that it, perhaps it would be the opportune moment to get some kind of legislation against muti murders, because we've never had specific legislation against this kind of crime. As I said, because the common law deals with it already. 
And so they included muti murders as a a harmful witchcraft practice, which is just laughable. And I'll explain why. I've looked at cases in our criminal courts involving muti murders and nowhere, not in any cases stretching back over 20 years, has any accused person in those cases identified as a witch. Nowhere has any person identified as being a practitioner of witchcraft. So why make murders a harmful witchcraft practice?
Is the commission using the term harmful witchcraft practice as a convenient catch-all to deal [01:07:00] with all the other crimes that haven't actually been legislated against yet? Because that's our approach, that's our opinion. We clearly explain to the commission that witches are not responsible for muti murders. That witchcraft itself, the practice of witchcraft, is not involved in muti murders. Traditional healers, the traditional healers who were the initiators of these crimes or who were responsible, found guilty of purchasing human body parts for use later on, did not identify as witches. They certainly didn't identify what they were doing as witchcraft.
So hopefully the commission will realize that this is not, this has nothing to do with witchcraft or witches. But to get back to your original question, I think the commission is attempting to appease both parties, not wanting to appear to be favoring witches against traditional healers, [01:08:00] especially in our society that is still really divided between white and black.
So that may be one of the reasons why the commission agreed to include it as an option. But it does beg the question whether the commissioners who decided to include it realized in including it that it was an impossible piece of law, because it was based on a false premise. This idea of there being supernatural powers or that they could be proven in a court of law. I dunno, that's one of the mysteries. I think that we've, we will have successfully convinced the commission not to adopt the recommended bill. I think they only included it to appease the other, other side. 
Sarah Jack: The definition of terms and the categorizing of behaviors is [01:09:00] been such a murky situation for decades and decades. And this new bill would still have the harmful witchcraft practices not clarified. 
Damon Leff: But it possibly would help to identify what witchcraft is. And as you saw in the papers, the commission was hesitant to allow itself to define once and for all what witchcraft is, because witches define it in one way and traditional healers define it in exactly the opposite way. And again, it would require the commission to take side. And so it was convenient to just skip over that and not define it at all. But that creates a problem, because it allows the other side to continue to promote that narrative that witches are automatically evil and need to be killed before they harm your family.
It would be helpful if the commission accepted, and we have a very broad definition of witchcraft. It's not a narrow religious view that [01:10:00] will exclude people who identify as witchcraft in other cultures, as witches in other cultures. We have a very broad definition of witchcraft, which we would like the commission to consider and it was actually included in the paper at some point, very briefly mentioned by them that we had submitted this definition, but then they glossed over it. I think, again, not wanting to offend traditional healers. 
Sarah Jack: Do you wanna give us that definition?
Damon Leff: The sympathetic practice of magic, herbalism, and divination, either within a religious context or within a folk magic practice context. And that's a very broad definition that would include all kinds, all forms of witchcraft, whether it was because in Hinduism there is a particular branch of Hinduism, which involves a practice of magic. So you have in India, you have actual witches, Hindu witches, who identify [01:11:00] themselves as witches, because their religion does afford them that kind of practice, that kind of belief system. And that wouldn't exclude them, because they practice a sympathetic form of magic within a religious context and they practice divination.
Josh Hutchinson: That's very interesting. Wonder what legal challenges would also come up by them not defining the crime accurately. If they don't define witchcraft, how do you prosecute witchcraft? 
Damon Leff: Precisely, exactly, the principle of legality, if you cannot clearly define a crime, there cannot be a crime. That has been the weakness of the Witchcraft Suppression Act since 1957. The act doesn't define witchcraft, and yet it criminalizes it. So it was convenient then for the word witchcraft to come to mean a whole lot of things, depending on who was dealing with it at the time, and that is the problem [01:12:00] we had historically with the word witchcraft. It means a vast array of different things to different people in different times. 
Sarah Jack: Why did the commission feel that the European definitions of evil and witch and witchcraft didn't translate well ,because it, when our conversation first started, it sounded like malevolence and evil was a part of fears going way back in traditions.
Damon Leff: I think the commission doesn't want to offend traditionalists within the African culture, who are attempting to promote African cultural belief systems, including those around witchcraft. Unless though the convention challenges them on the basis of evidence, on rationality, I don't think the commission will, I don't think the commission feels its place to challenge what a person believes. It, it has been very open toward [01:13:00] our approach. It has been very open and accommodating of us expressing who we are as pagan witches. So I think it is trying to show the same kind of dignity to traditional African beliefs that believe in things that aren't necessarily conducive to the rule of law.
I think the job of challenging those indigenous belief systems belong to the tribal elders and the leaders within those communities. They need to re-look at what they believe in the context of witchcraft.
Josh Hutchinson: The commission's report, they repeatedly used the word scourge to describe a scourge of harmful witchcraft practices. How do you think they determined that there is a scourge? 
Damon Leff: The commission doesn't really list harmful witchcraft practices without of course [01:14:00] listing muti murders, which have nothing to do with witchcraft practices. I think that when the commission refers to the scourge of harmful witchcraft practices, they're actually referring to accusations of witchcraft, because they form the most obvious crimes that occur in the context of witchcraft in our country. Of course these are not harmful witchcraft crimes. These are harmful crimes perpetrated against persons falsely suspected of being witches. The commission is still stuck in that contextual frame, harmful witchcraft crimes, which implies that witches or people practicing witchcraft are responsible for those crimes. But perhaps they will shift their narrative once they receive our submission and look at it. 
Sarah Jack: What would the impact be if they continue to regulate witchcraft?
Damon Leff: I think it's highly unlikely given the constitution's protection of the right to belief. I think it's [01:15:00] very unlikely that the commission or parliament for that matter, would recommend that we need legislation against the belief in witchcraft or against witchcraft practice or against witches. I don't think that's ever going to happen. 
The question is whether Parliament is going to accept that the Witchcraft Suppression Act should be repealed and that common law can replace the mechanism of current legislation to deal with accusations of witchcraft. 10 years ago, I would've said I'm doubtful, because of the high number of accusations of witchcraft we were reporting. Today I'm more hopeful, because we see less and less accusations. Part of that process of reducing the number of accusations is the communal effort by traditional leaders and traditional elders to try and minimize moments of conflict, tension [01:16:00] within families or communities where accusations of witchcraft arise.
And that only came about as a result of the CRL Commission's intervention. That's the Commission for the Promotion of Cultural, Religious, and Linguistic Communities. We approached them to assist us in dealing with the issue of accusations of witchcraft. It was impossible for us to go directly to informal or traditional communities and engage with traditional healers and leaders and say, "look, you have to stop these accusations because we identify as witches."
We don't have any credibility. We don't, we're not outsiders, we're not unbiased participants. The commission did that on our behalf. It organized a nationally inviso gathering, advised a traditional healers and leaders. Members of Parliament where there. It invited [01:17:00] local government leaders as well. And the commission raised the issue of witchcraft accusations, raised the issue of the harm, the real harms that witchcraft accusations cause, harm to the right to equality, harm to the right to dignity, harm to the right to belief and opinion. All of those issues were discussed over a couple of days. So I think that process began a shift. It began to shift narratives, and it's taken a while for that shift to begin to settle. That doesn't mean that accusations of witchcraft won't happen again. There's always an option. But hopefully that narrative has begun to shift.
Josh Hutchinson: That would be great. In the Law Reform Commission's report, they seem to admit that the Witchcraft Act hasn't worked and that it's nearly impossible to enforce. So how would a new law be any different? How would it suddenly be enforceable?
Damon Leff: I agree with you. [01:18:00] I don't think it would. For a start, you would have to get communities, local communities to become aware of a new law, which would prevent accusations of witchcraft, but it wouldn't really be a new law, because all along making accusations of witchcraft has been illegal. So I don't think any new law would have any effect whatsoever. No. 
And as I said earlier, law doesn't prevent crime. The legislation won't prevent the crimes from occurring. The legislation is there to ensure that those who have been affected by crime can find redress.
Sarah Jack: I'm very amazed. Not in a positive way, about the complexity of accusing witches. So you have the victims and their families and the community, how it's what they go through, but then how it ripples into the religious community, affecting your faith. In the United States, we talk about [01:19:00] "other" all the time, how our vulnerable "others" are treated like witches. There is this lining here where identifying people as evil has just extensive ramifications across the people. I was thinking about that. 
Damon Leff: It removes their automatic right to dignity. When we "other" people, we say that those people are "other," they don't have any dignity, they don't need to be treated like us., They don't need to be given the same respect or the same consideration. And it's easy then to scapegoat them for the things that we wanna blame someone for. It's very easy not to take responsibility for our own actions, if we can scapegoat the "other." We are suffering misfortune, not because we are poor and the government is not giving us an opportunity to become wealthy or employed, we are poor because that woman [01:20:00] over there put a spell on us and that's keeping us poor. And we can make that accusation, because that woman isn't a woman, that woman is not part of us, she's not a human, she doesn't deserve the same kind of consideration. We don't even need to ask her. We can just make the accusation.
So that's what "othering" tends to do. It demonizes and dehumanizes the "other." We can see the same thing happening in conflict between men and women and families where men automatically become abusive to their wives. There is a lack of consideration for the wive's feeling, her right to security, her right to dignity. It's the same pattern. .
Josh Hutchinson: We've covered a lot of ground, and it's been a very rich and important discussion. What is the status currently of the new bill? Has that gone before the parliament? 
Damon Leff: [01:21:00] So the bill was not drafted by Parliament. So traditionally for a bill to become legislation, it is drafted by a parliamentary portfolio committee. It is then discussed by the portfolio committee, and if they're happy with it, they will send it to the National Assembly.
The National Assembly on the first reading is happy with it, it'll then get published in the government gazette for public comment and then will go through its process there. This bill was not, it's not a national assembly bill. It was not drafted by a parliamentary portfolio committee. It was drafted by, I think, traditional healers and given to the law reform commission, or it was drafted through the guidance of traditional healers by commissioners in the Law Reform Commission.
So it wasn't published in the government gazette. It's not an official piece of legislation. It was simply a proposal. The Law Reform Commission's saying, "look, these people think that we need to replace this act with this bill. Here's an example of what [01:22:00] they mean." I think that's what it comes down to. So it isn't, doesn't have any weight.
And even if, for example, the commission. Eventually says to parliament, "look, we think that you should repeal the act, the Witchcraft Suppression Act, and we think that you should replace it with this bull." Then that would begin from scratch. The parliamentary portfolio committee would take the suggestion and begin to look at motivation for drafting a new bull.
But I don't think that's ever gonna happen at the moment. Parliament is overwhelmed by the amount of work it has, and I don't think they're going to want to include another bull dealing with something like witchcraft onto their plate. But we'll have to see. The commission is determined to resolve their investigation this year, hopefully by next year at the latest. We'll see how it goes.
Josh Hutchinson: Is the commission still accepting feedback? 
Damon Leff: No, the date [01:23:00] for comment closed the end of October. Okay. I think they probably would accept feedback if they received it, but no, the official date for comment on that bill is closed. And depending on the number of submissions that they receive, if, for example, they feel that they need to have yet another public participation process, they may open an opportunity for comment again, but they seem to be determined to want to finish this investigation. It started in 2007. 
Josh Hutchinson: Yeah, 15 years already and not finished. But it sounds like there would be another opportunity for you and others to offer comment if it were taken up by parliament. 
Damon Leff: Once the commission recommends to parliament that the act be repealed ,the Parliamentary Investigation Committee of the Justice Department would have a look at that, have a look at the work that the commission has done, have a look at the motivation for why they want [01:24:00] the, or suggest that the act should be repealed. And if they agree with the commission's decision, then it's a simple process of making a recommendation to the president and the National Commission commit, that and the national House of Parliament to have the Act repealed. That should be a straightforward process.
Sarah Jack: What is the future of witch hunts and advocacy?
Damon Leff: Let's hope that it includes an end to legal prejudice against the subject of witchcraft entirely. Let's also hope that it ends accusations of witchcraft on a grassroots level. Is there a need perhaps for the states to acknowledge that there has been this historical human rights abuse as committed as a result of a belief in witchcraft as something evil? I don't know. And it's easy to talk about a monument for the victims [01:25:00] of accusations when the state was involved in the trials. I'm not sure that our parliament would see a reason for a national monument for the victims of witchcraft accusation. It could be something to consider down the line that those who have lost their lives as a result of accusations of witchcraft need somehow to be acknowledged, that the members of their family need to be acknowledged. Their pain, their suffering, their loss needs to be acknowledged, hopefully, possibly, by the members of the community that committed the atrocities. The need for restorative justice essentially. I don't think that's something that the South African Pagan Rights Alliance could lead. We could certainly encourage it, but that coming to terms with the atrocities of one's [01:26:00] past needs to happen between and by the people involved in those atrocities.
Yeah, and I think the appropriate forum to manage those discussions, negotiations would be something like the Human Rights Commission or the CRL Commission. Yeah, as far as the Pagan Rights Alliance is concerned, once the act has been repealed, hopefully by then we'll have trained enough paralegals who would be able to assist local communities irrespective of who they are, where they are, who are still dealing with accusations of witchcraft.
It might be very helpful to be able to get paralegals to form working partnerships with police in local communities where accusations are common, so that they can [01:27:00] intercede and assist police, ensure that social workers are there, that the victims are cared for in a humane way. Their might be a role for us there, but not something that, that we have any concrete on now, but it could be a role for us in the future.
Josh Hutchinson: Here's Sarah Jack, president of End Witch Hunts, director of the Connecticut Witch Trial Exoneration Project, host of Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast, bringing you an important End Witch Hunts Advocacy News report. Listen to what she says. It's very important, and we need to heed her call to action.
Sarah Jack: End Witch Hunt's World Advocacy Report. This episode offered a snapshot of the phase of witch-hunt behaviors that South Africa now navigates. The South African Pagan Rights [01:28:00] Alliance Advocacy Against Witch Hunts has worked to promote protections and breakdown barriers around modern witchcraft violence, prejudices, and allegations in South Africa.
This organization advocates for legal protection against religious witchcraft discrimination. South Africa has seen a decline in witch attacks. South Africa moved in a positive direction towards inclusive religious tolerance for South Africans with diverse religious practices by activism and strategic efforts.
Advocates like Damon Leff are taking effective action in educating the world to accept religious diversity. They're demanding civil accountability against witch allegation crimes and human rights protections from witchcraft discrimination. Without this purposeful work, witch-hunting and hurtful religious discrimination will continue to grow its interlocked deep roots into the foundations of our communities. These harmful roots of fear and hate can be cut out and ended, but we must do the work. 
As Damon Leff has demonstrated, the prejudiced and assumptive message of the media and witchcraft [01:29:00] legislation can be challenged and changed. The South African Pagan Rights Alliance Advocacy Against Witch Hunts effectively informed and impacted the message of media writers and reporters around witchcraft ideology. The Alliance took effective action to support the repeal of the Witchcraft Suppression Act of 1957. They have facilitated responses across complex groups like officials of the government and religious organizations. 
Likewise, Thou Shalt Not Suffer podcast amplifies the message that nations and communities across the world have continued to be shrouded in witch-hunt injustices. These communities have advocate networks offering solutions and education to their community leaders. They're asking the world for acknowledgement and witch-hunts are an extensive and widespread past and present violent social phenomenon. Witch-hunting has operated within official law and courts and outside the law. Thou Shalt Not Suffer Podcast peels back the onion layers of witch-hunt components to evaluate the connections and similarities between [01:30:00] past and present witch-hunting. Witchcraft hunts have reached every continent and continue unjust suffering into new generations.
Each community is in a unique situation for the enabling of witch-hunts. But throughout time and humanity, the worldwide perception of witchcraft has been cloaked in fear, false allegations, and violence across all times. In South Africa, advocate and media conversations, as well as legal initiatives have begun to change the course of action around modern witch fear. 
Scotland and the United States are an example of nations advocating for victims in a different witch-hunt phase. These advocates are building conversations across collaborative cooperatives, calling for legislated national pardons and state exonerations to clear names of the wrongfully accused and executed men and women in their community histories.
From trials of the past to attacks in our modern time, witch-hunt chapters are wide open in our world witch-hunt story. Generations of individuals still take a casual interest in the cause and relevance of witch-hunts past and present. Witchphobia is generally [01:31:00] tolerated in most societies across the globe, and harm from witchcraft allegations is clear. People must learn and pay attention. You are intentional bystanders if you are not taking action.
We are End Witch Hunts. End Witch Hunts is the nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating harmful practices related to accusations of witchcraft and ritual attacks around the globe. The world must stop hunting witches. The world must stop hurting women and children out of fear. Please follow our End Witch Hunts movement on Twitter @_endwitchh unts and visit our website at
End Witch Hunts Movement and Thou Shalt Not Suffer podcast support the worldwide movement to recognize and address historical wrongs.
Josh Hutchinson: Thank you, Sarah, for that insightful and critical update on the real world, modern-day situation that many countries are faced with.
Sarah Jack: You're welcome.
Josh Hutchinson: [01:32:00] And thank you for listening to Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial podcast. 
Sarah Jack: Join us next week.
Josh Hutchinson: Subscribe wherever you get your podcast, and never miss a moment. 
Sarah Jack: Visit us often at 
Josh Hutchinson: Remember to tell your friends.
Sarah Jack: It's really good.
Josh Hutchinson: Exciting, tantalizing, scintillating. 
Sarah Jack: Support our efforts to End Witch Hunts. Visit to learn more about our nonprofit.
Josh Hutchinson: Have a great today and a beautiful tomorrow. 
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