Witchcraft in South Africa

Throughout the story of Welcome to Our Hillbrow there is mention of witches in Hillbrow and Tiragalong. The most significant part of the novel is when the narrator is describing the burial of Refentse:

“…when your mother slipped and fell into your grave on that hot Saturday morning of your burial. As Tiragalong believed, only witches could fall into a corpse’s grave on burial. Medicine men had confirmed that…such things only happened to witches after they had bewitched the deceased…”

This scene shows some of the beliefs revolving around witch craft in South Africa that is actually still seen today. As in the United States during the Salem Witch Trials, there has always been a stigma around those are believed to be witches. Many times they are blamed for anything that goes wrong in a village or town, as Refentse’s mother is blamed for his suicide. I found these beliefs to be interesting so I decided to do some research on the current presence of witch craft in South Africa.

One major aspect to point it which I think is shown in the novel is that most of the witch craft accusations are aimed at women. Unfortunately this has led to the mutilation of young girls. Another aspect that is brought up in the novel, espiciallly with the description of the burial is that witches are blamed for anything that goes wrong in the lives of those in the rural areas.

To help stop the violent attacks on women, or anyone thought to be witches, the South African government made it illegal to accuse anyone of doing witchcraft with the Witchcraft Suppression Act of 1957. Something I find interesting is that South African President Jacob Zuma said that during the Apartheid era he used witchcraft on white people, giving them powers of witchcraft. There has also been evidence of more witchcraft in rural areas during political changes in the country. In many rural areas, body parts are taken for magical or healing uses. This, which is called muti, is illegal in South Africa, yet the country has seen many murders as a result of this practice. In fact the province of Limpopo saw a death toll of 250 in just one year from muti murders. Hospitals have actually been accused of storing body parts that were taken in the manner of a muti. Witchdoctors are still used as a way for people to get medical attention, as Yesterday did in the film.

Just like the AIDS crisis, witchcraft is a problem in South Africa that has been masked by the Apartheid era.






Posted on November 6, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. That’s really interesting, I was wondering if there was still a role for witchcraft in South Africa today. Did your sources talk about the “necklace” that was mentioned as a way to get rid of witches in the novel? It seemed like they were alluding to women having to wear rubber tires around their necks, but it was a little confusing in the way it was phrased. I also really like how you brought in the doctor in Yesterday. The prevalence of this practice in the film and our novel helps us to realize that something we did not think about is actually quite common. Do you think the practice of witchcraft, since it included white South Africans (as mentioned above) was a contributing factor to the hysteria of AIDS, and the rejection of it by the President after Mandela?

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