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Witchcraft, mob justice and hypocrisy

13 July 2009

In our teaching week at Atteridgeville last week we were discussing Christian morality and ethics, and the kind of sins one needs to confess in confession. Father Athanasius mentioned the need to confess attempts to harm other people by abusing them physically, verbally or spiritually (for example by witchcraft). And when he mentioned witchcraft there was a nervous titter.

A couple of days later I raised this again, and asked why there was a nervous titter when Fr Athanasius had mentioned it, and again there was a nervous titter at the mention of witchcraft (boloi, ubuthakathi). It seems that in many Christian communities this is the elephant in the room that no one wants to mention.

Then this morning I discovered that there had been a sudden flurry of interest in an old post on this blog on Witchcraft-related killings, and that several people had been looking up “muti killings” on WordPress.  So perhaps it’s time to air the topic again.

Another post linked to the muti killing tag was Muti killing and mob justice, where a 9-year-old girl had been murdered for muti, and a mob sought to burn down a house that they thought belonged to the perpetrators, with the inmates inside.

One commenter on my blog post wrote “i’m shocked to the core of my sole at these muti killings, and the acts of vile savagery against other humans… these arnt humans they are sub human, un educated savages and deserve……. whatever ….” — which is precisely the kind of attitude that leads to the lynch mob style of  “justice”.

The media generally deplore mob “justice”, whether directed against suspected witches or in xenophobic attacks on foreigners, though they do profit by the extra sales from reporting them, and at times the Sun has come pretty close to encouraging the attacks on foreigners. But when I see foreigners (am I getting xenophobic now?) pointing fingers at South Africans for these things and talking about unhuman uneducated savages, I wonder about the Western media frenzy that urged on the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and I wonder who the uneducated savages are — that was mob justice with the support of the state, and on a far large scale than the attempt to burn down the house of the suspected killers of a nine-year-old girl. How many houses were burnt down in Iraq in 2003, and how many 9-year-old girls died horribly in those attacks?

No, in that repect we are all uneducated savages, no matter where we live.

And that is why Jesus said that if anyone is angry with his brother without a cause, they have committed murder already in their hearts. And that is why Father Athanasius said that if one even thought about harming someone else, whether through physical, verbal or spiritual abuse, that is a sin we need to confess and forsake.

If the nervous tittering when we began to discuss it indicates that it is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about, then perhaps that gives a clue to the reasons for the Christian churches’ ineffectiveness in countering both witchcraft-related and xenophobic violence — that no one really wants to come out and say that these things are sinful. They are things that we do not talk about, or pretend not to see, or think that the solution is modernity (educating people not to “believe in” witchcraft any more) rather than Christ. Those who took delight in the thought of bombing Iraq back into the stone age were, most of them, educated moderns who didn’t “believe in ” witchcraft, but their behaviour was the same as that of the “uneducated savages” they like to deplore, and the effects were multiplied by the use of all the refinements of modern technology in manufacturing weapons of destruction.

Modernity is not the answer; repentance is.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 13 July 2009 11:51 pm

    Repentance. Amen. We could rephrase that old quote and say – I have seen the savages, and they are us.

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