Although Western witchcraft was not taken into consideration when the Mpumalanga department of local government and housing started drafting the Mpumalanga Witchcraft Suppression Bill 2007, the draft proposal has caused uproar in Pagan circles since it was leaked in June.
Pagans believe the bill will force them to abandon their religion. The bill aims to suppress witchcraft in the province, to set a code of conduct for traditional healers, and to provide for the responsibilities of traditional leaders.
One of the definitions of witchcraft in the bill is “a person who uses magic powders and mutis for the purpose of causing harm”.
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According to advocate Bongani Thomas, senior manager of legal services at the department, there had not been any reference to the Western practice of witchcraft in the draft.
“We have only looked at the Afrocentric definition of witchcraft and have not yet accommodated Eurocentric methods.”
Thomas added that the department had used the existing Act on witchcraft as a benchmark for the bill.
Cape Town witch and high priestess Donna “Darkwolf” Vos said though the bill was not written with Western witches in mind, it still affected them.
“As it stands, the bill will mean witches would have to expose themselves, which could pose a problem as some are still solitary practitioners.”
The South African Pagan Rights Alliance (Sapra) has come up with its own proposal for a bill.
According to Sapra convener Damon Leff, the bill looks to define the practice and protect practitioners.
This proposal also incorporates the Traditional Healers Organisations concerns.
Leff’s biggest concern is that if the Witchcraft Suppression Bill is passed in Mpumalanga, it is likely Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal would adopt it.
Leff said there needed to be an understanding of the definition of witchcraft. Compared to African witchcraft, Western witchcraft did not mutilate or use body parts.
Fey Fand, high priestess of Durban’s Celetine Circle, said if the bill was passed, some witches could lose their jobs.
“Some of them are astrologers, tarot card and palm readers and they will not be able to practise,” she said.
Leff added the bill would mean witches wouldn’t be able to publicly declare they were witches, shops would have to stop selling books on witchcraft and witches selling products such as incense and crystals would have to shut down.
Ginney Taenith Ravencraft May, a practising witch and high priestess of the Temple of the Midnight Sun in Durban, said the biggest challenge for Pagans was to start educating the public about Wicca and witchcraft.
“Stereotypes are mostly to blame for the misunderstanding about witchcraft and magic and there needs to be an awareness campaign that will sift out these misconceptions,” she said.