A government commission has accused controversial churchmen – pastors Paseka ‘Mboro’ Motsoeneng, Lesego Daniel and Chris Oyakhilome – of reinforcing belief in witchcraft.
The SA Law Reform Commission says these pastors tell congregants they have animals in their bellies, especially snakes, because of witches they do not identify.
According to the commission, these charismatic churches promise to protect congregants from all forms of evil, including witchcraft.
The commission has recommended that the government introduces a new law – the Prohibition of Harmful Practices Associated with Witchcraft Beliefs Bill – to stop people from being accused of being witches, prevent violence relating to witchcraft claims and criminalise witchcraft. In terms of the proposed new law, approaching a sangoma to declare someone else a witch will be punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment.
Sangomas could also face five-year sentences for identifying people as witches.
The commission, which is chaired by Supreme Court of Appeal Deputy President Judge Mandisa Maya, with North Gauteng High Court Judge Jody Kollapen as her deputy, believes the current Witchcraft Suppression Act of 1957 violates some of the rights of pagans and traditional healers, who claim that activities associated with witchcraft are part of their religion or cultural beliefs.
“These rights are protected in the constitution and cannot be violated without justification that meets the requirements of the constitution,” the commission says.
The review was the responsibility of an advisory committee led by University of KwaZulu-Natal academic Professor Marita Carnelley and included sculptor and academic Professor Pitika Ntuli.
The act violates freedom of expression, suppresses all forms of witchcraft activity and witchcraft can no longer be seen only through the lens of indigenous communities, where it is necessarily associated with evil, the commission states.
It says there is a small section of society practising witchcraft, which is alleged to be an exercise of the right to religion and cannot be ignored while cultural beliefs of indigenous communities, some of which have a bearing on harmful practices associated with witchcraft, also need recognition and protection, as they are also protected in the constitution.
Traditional Healers’ Organisation national co-ordinator Phephsile Masekosaid they needed to dissect the proposed new law. “It’s interesting, it’s going to be difficult for religious people to operate,” Maseko said.
Last year, Motsoeneng and Daniel appeared before the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities hearings into unconditional church practices. Nigerian Oyakhilome’s South African lawyers did not respond to enquiries despite earlier promising to facilitate it.-Sowetan