Witchcraft Related Crimes in South Africa


In South African context, various criminal activities occur such as fraud, violence, murder among others. Nonetheless, some of the crimes are normally associated with witchcraft. Association of crimes with witchcraft beliefs is widespread in South Africa. This has led to retaliatory attacks, violence, and loss of lives. The government of South Africa, however, has been unable to address this issue. The law implementers have proven inefficient and ineffective and this has further worsened the already sad state. This article focuses on thorough and in-depth research through utilizing relevant literature by previous writers and researchers. It seeks to address the issue of why stumping out these criminal activities in not successful. Finally, the paper seeks to find solutions to this problem.

It is noteworthy mentioning that this article focuses on my knowledge and use of reliable and authentic sources. Many people have carried out a similar research on the same topic despite existence of other such articles that attempt to dig deeper into the issue by identifying the underlying loopholes that needs filling. Towards the end of this essay, the paper will delve into addressing the issue of what witchcraft related crimes are actually. Thereafter, it will focus on looking into the way forward in re-defining and developing a criterion that should be employed to address the issue completely. However, it is important to explore on how to categorize such criminal activities to help in coming up with a proper solution.

In Eastern Cape, villagers on suspicion of being witches lynched two women. An allegation transpired that the two women were responsible for sending lightning to strike dead two boys. Lamentation from various people laid a ground that the two women were thought to have evil powers, which they directed to the lightning to strike the boys. In another part of South Africa, two men died after consuming the local brew. It was a wonder since other men had also drunk from the very pot yet nothing transpired in the end. The residents concluded that the two men were not poisoned instead they were evil witches who deserved to die.

In yet another instance, an elderly woman was stoned to death in July 2008 following her confession of being responsible for the recent deaths of young people who perished after contracting HIV/AIDS virus. She claimed to have the supernatural power of injecting blood that had infection with AIDS virus on healthy people whom she predicted would die within a span of 3months. According to Petrus (2009), the woman had confessed voluntarily without any influence or pressure from anybody.

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Similarly, in the 1990s, cases of witch-hunts and killings were rampant. However, the South African government was unable to deal with this violence perpetrated by people affected by witchcraft. Because of this violence, a Commission of Inquiry was set up to look into this nightmare and come up with recommendations. However, Petrus (2009) says that these recommendations were never put into consideration and if they were, very little has been done about it.

Reasons for Failure to Implement Laws Regulating Witchcraft Activities

Witchcraft related crimes in South Africa are recurrent. This has left the international community to wonder why there’s is laxity on the  part of the government of south Africa  by failing to curb this disease. This failure may be due to several reasons. First, this is probably because this government has failed to clearly define what exactly witchcraft related crime is and relay this without any possible ambiguity.

Secondly, it may be because the government does not take the issue seriously. According to A. Ashforth (2005), this lack of progress is because witchcraft tends to surface in public discourse in South Africa only when reports about killings of witches arise. It is only considered a problem when it causes someone’s demise, which is a crime against humanity.

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Thirdly, the colonial government that wrote down laws of the country ignored the aspect of socio-cultural context of witchcraft. This is in relation to cultural norms. It undermined the indigenous African communities and all their activities viewed as barriers to modernization. They failed to define this type of crime because of lacking holistic understanding of witchcraft. They wrote the laws based on Eurocentric values without including beliefs and perceptions of the indigenous communities pertaining witchcraft.

Holland (2001) asserts that during colonization, the Europeans attempted to impose definitions and practices on indigenous communities. They suppressed the Africans by declaring that any beliefs or practices, which seemed like witchcraft, were illegal. This enraged the Africans because the whites failed to see that not all forms of black magic were bad. This law victimized the diviners and herbalists who had positive roles and protected the community against evil powers. As a result, Africans interpreted the Act against witchcraft as protecting witches and sorcerers and victimizing diviners and herbalists, who the colonial masters treated them as criminals yet the community regarded them highly as heroes (Mavhungu, 2000). Mavhungu (2000) further says that they failed to recognize the status of witchcraft in African perception.

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South Africa has this crime contained in the clause, The Witchcraft Suppression Act (No. 3 of 1957). Section 1 of this Act stipulated that any individual having the understanding of witchcraft or uses charms is culpable of the offence when proven as a witchdoctor. This clause is contained in the statutes of South Africa, has no clear-cut distinction between practitioners of good magic and of evil magic (Mavhungu, 2000). This act seems not to consider the definition of witchcraft according to African point of view because it keeps using the word ”pretend” to mean the person who  claims to possess supernatural powers.

Many issues occur in various regions in South Africa that are likely to suggest that they enjoy practicing witchcraft activities. This is because many people in such regions enjoy making mistakes and calling for intervention from their witchdoctors. Witches also enjoy some sort of privileges in the society. They are usually regarded as people who deserve respect and whatever they say must be treated with the seriousness it deserves. It becomes impossible to understand some of these criminal activities. For instance, in cases where a person decides to seek the intervention of a witch to maybe help him/her handle any issue of concern. There might be a problem in defining witchcraft in such an instance. This is because a client may consult a diviner to give him protection from witches. If the suspected witch dies, the folks of the witch blame the diviner and so is the client (Ashforth, 2005). This leads to retaliatory violence where the family of the witch seeks justice or revenge. In this case, it is difficult to determine who the witch is. In such circumstances, people are forced to speculate on issues that they might have not speculated. This speculation is because of uncertainty caused by the actions of both the witch and the person in search for divine intervention. 

The above act is likely to cause ambiguity because there are usually no regulations in place to guide people who entertain such practices. This can also be associated with the fact that the ambiguity caused is because of improper legislations of the colonialists that appear generalized. This has continually remained to be an everyday problem in the legal definition of witchcraft related crimes. It is therefore necessary and urgent that the government of South Africa reviews the Act on witchcraft suppression and put into consideration the African worldview about witchcraft. The South African government should review the act to make some stringent rules that will guide people and the country in general to deal with individuals who have interest in such practices (Ashforth, 2005).  


Based on the above arguments, it is safe to say that an act done for evil motive, not to protect an innocent person but done out of malice or jealousy, using evil power wrongfully and manipulating it for sadistic pleasures and causing unnecessary  pain, misery and suffering  can be defined as witchcraft related crime. This article has illustrated killings, which transpire because of criminal activities carried out by diviners. It also explores on various incidents of witchcraft and clearly states the reasons behind the failure of handling such a crime and fully addressing it so that the values of the society are protected. This is clear and simplified version of witchcraft craft related crimes and has highlighted what ought to be done about it. The government of South Africa is trying its best to stamp out this major problem by initiating talks and asking and consulting other experts who have the technical knowhow of this issue, which has been a threat to the state.

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