Witchcraft, the Scapegoat

Despite the infamous Oscar Pistorius murder trial gradually shifting out of our collective psyche because we’ve just generally grown weary from all the waiting, it has served as an interesting lesson in-among other things- scapegoating.

Having browsed some texts where commentators posed the hypothetical question on what would have been had Oscar been Black; would he get the same kind of media coverage? Would he get a TV channel dedicated to him? Would he even be allowed to undergo psychiatric evaluation as an out-patient? Hell, would he have been able to afford the million bucks bail? I’d have to say that those are interesting but not particularly useful questions.

It has been rather intriguing how Pistorius has shifted the blame to everyone but himself for some of the events that have occurred in his life; from estranged friends, to the burglar in the toilet and his hand (God forbid it has a mind of its own!) for pulling the trigger. Never himself. Still, one can’t help but wonder whether a black Pistorius would have at least one more avenue to exploit. Perhaps he would believe in a third force, supernatural elements? Would he also blame witchcraft for his ‘misfortune’? Who knows!

Dwight D. Elsenhauser once said, “The search for a scapegoat is the easiest of all hunting expeditions”. Indeed it is easier for most people to shift blame to someone/thing else when backed up against a corner or when the heat gets turned up. While the assumption of responsibility forces one to take a hard look in the mirror and to confront the ugly truth, scapegoating on the other hand lends a comfortable cushion that allows the user convenient ignorance and denialism.

Human beings are interesting creatures, we love taking responsibility for all the good things that occur in our lives but rarely do the same with the undesirable, bad stuff. My last post discussed how deeply entrenched witchcraft belief is in our society (and in many other African countries as well). If you’ve been following the Farlam Commission into the Marikana massacre of 2012 you would have heard Mr “X”’s testimony about the extent to which supernatural belief played a role in the occurrence of gruesome and sadistic rituals carried out by miners in the run-up to the tragedy.

Not only did those beliefs prove fatal for security guards and policemen killed before, but ultimately for the miners themselves in believing they were invincible- a double-edged sword. There are many reasons why people believe in witchcraft, if we define witchcraft as acts of evil done purposely with the intent to harm others.

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However, there are two overriding factors that make the top of the list, that is, one is either successful or not. Success defined in terms of material, the reverence of community members, social status, etc. The former will believe that there are people who aren’t happy with that success and therefore will work towards causing harm or reversing this. The latter will believe that their lack of progress in life is a result of some supernatural conspiracy.

I can neither confirm nor deny. However, I can relate a personal story about being taken to a Nigerian prophet known for assisting people with these “things”. I clearly remember the look on my old man’s face as he told us of other-worldly things-stuff beyond us. It was shortly after my cousin dropped by to show us his new car.

There we were, my sister and I, in our mid-twenties (okay, late twenties in my case). Willing and able post-graduates. Unemployed. Stuck. Like hundreds of thousands of other graduates in this country. Somebody was panicking and it wasn’t either of us. I suppose witches were/are working over-time then? Never mind the socio-economic milieu or the level of corruption in our midst, there was something new we could seriously consider as the root and cause of our stagnation. It was someone else; someone close, the prophet said on our first meeting. Great!

Nervous conditions can create fertile ground for suspicion and paranoia, which may prove dangerous for people who are wrongfully accused of committing witchcraft. In the article “Victims of witch-hunts in South Africa are ignored, DamonLeff writes, “South Africa faces a growing refugee crisis as many victims of witchcraft accusation who survive assault are forcibly expelled from their communities by community leaders, traditional leaders and traditional healers, sometimes after being tried in traditional courts and found guilty through divination alone…

It is during the state of panic that a man’s character is revealed. When faced with the option of fight or flight, a lot of people choose the latter; which means we do not get the opportunity to explore the depth of our resilience…

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Witchcraft: The Naked Story

I’ve been mulling over the subject of witchcraft for a while now; probably weeks on end. I guess it’s   pretty tough trying to wrap one’s head around things you’ll probably never understand. It’s worse when they are as old as time because, it would seem the more you try to understand the less you know. So, what do you do? Do you stop questioning, or keep pushing the lid? I choose the latter.

As I was sitting on a taxi headed back home one Friday evening next to an elderly woman, her phone rang, playing Umanji’s Moloi. I thought; what a rather odd song to load as a ringtone and…what a coincidence! All of this happening presented me with an uneasy predicament: I wondered whether this old woman really liked the song because of its catchy tune or that she genuinely identified with the content- that perhaps she felt vindicated by the song, somehow.

Umanji, the late South African folklore singer who was born in Zebediela, Limpopo province warns in the song “Witch” against people destroying each other unnecessarily with false assumptions. In this case, it is the idea that the witch is embodied by old; ugly and unkempt women. Conversely, he asserts that it is the college-going bunch that is beautiful and, seemingly harmless, that one must beware of.

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The late 1990s presented South Africa with a wave of witch-hunts, especially in Limpopo. Paging through that tabloid some of us love to hate on any given day gives one the impression that it hasn’t stopped. What’s clear is that the belief in the existence of the supernatural is firmly entrenched in many corners of our country.

Described by Media for Justice as, “a publication notorious for publishing untested rumour and unexamined accusations and allegations regarding the supernatural” Daily Sun is probably (at face value) a newspaper for the guy who’s lazy to read. It is not hard to imagine the guy at the bottom of the food chain having it in hand, whether for the purpose of reading or using it as toilet paper. It takes flak in intellectual conversations, if it even makes it there in the first place. Who in the upwardly mobile department wants to be associated with ‘nonsense’?

The truth is the belief in witchcraft seeps into many spheres. Although predominant in rural areas, its reach is indiscriminate with respect to social or financial status. It goes beyond religious commitment, education or even age. Of course much of the intent of religion is to fight spiritual warfare and therefore acknowledges that evil in its many forms exists side by side with good.

The most recent case in point is that of a senior cabinet reportedly embroiled in a messy divorce with his ex-wife. According to The Times, accusations of witchcraft and/or the “causing of witchcraft practices and rituals to be conducted” in their home were levelled against the respondent.

Now, I’ll have to admit that I’ve laughed off some rather absurd-sounding things like people being able to purchase lightning and other sinister things  destined for unsuspecting victims for as little as fifty bucks from openly public places like taxi ranks.

But some of the stories I have heard among peers and old folk alike can make for some chilling experience and quickly dampen the mood. One person recounted how they witnessed someone stark naked in another’s house in the dead of night. Manala, MJ explains that “The essence of witchcraft and sorcery is the causing of harm to persons or property by invisible means”. So “go tshwarega” is an expression describing a perceived witch being caught in the act, and possibly not being able to flee the scene. It is common belief that witches turn against their own people as opposed to strangers and driven by envy, malice and jealousy.

In all respects it is not easy to gauge the extents to which people can go when they feel that life has dealt them unfair blows in comparison to others. Therefore, it is easy to dismiss the belief in witchcraft as nothing more than unfounded accusations and rumours that could be averted by educating certain groups of people. Unfortunately, the issue runs far deeper and has created other societal challenges like ritual killings for muti and the sale of body parts.

It makes one realise that just because you don’t believe in something doesn’t mean it does not exist. In the same breath, it’s all the more clear that whatever one believes manifests. Such irony…

 

 

 

 

Kickin’ It…

You’ve been there before: At the height of emotional suffocation; feeling physically and mentally trapped in a dizzy abyss. You’ve felt yourself spiral out of control, yet you also felt yourself try to hang on for dear life at whatever cost.

Whether it was through smoking, alcohol, sex, food or that boy/girlfriend yow were addicted to- a habit is a habit is a habit. A bad habit is even worse and albeit, harder to kick. So you sit yourself in a corner. You call it introspection; you speak to yourself in different tones. One minute you think you are the most disgusting, sorry sod with no discipline and the next you try to rationalize your habit, making it seem acceptable. So the cycle goes.

According to William Ekpa, “The nature of habit”*, habit is “at once humanity’s heaviest liability and greatest asset; it can be used to obtain whatever one dreams of, just as it can be used for self-destruction”. A lot of the time bad habits morph into the most dangerous, unhealthy and costly addictions.

I have struggled with a few bad habits myself, and while some simply fell by the way side like that disgusting and smelly, not to mention unhealthy smoking habit I picked up in my late teens. Funny how it never seems ‘disgusting’ when one is completely immersed in bad habits. Perhaps stating that some of my bad habits ‘simply fell by the…’is a bit of an overstatement really. The truth is that it took me an awful lot of time to kick this habit.

There were constant moments of battling relapse only to go out clubbing on a weekend and find myself in the same spot. Then there were weird moments of trying to conceal the habit from those who would otherwise say, “But that’s so not… you!” But I sure kicked the habit, and then some. That’s the thing with habits, isn’t it… easy to start but painstakingly difficult to abandon? Maybe not?

As someone who lives with impulsive compulsion (and this is a self-diagnosis by the way, thank you very much!)I have battled with a lot of bad habits and I’m certain that those who’ve been in the same boat will attest that any excuse is good enough to rationalise bad habits. Boredom, loneliness, stress, curiosity and even silence are just some of the scapegoats.

Unfortunately one of my bad habits involves food. I realise that food is my ultimate weakness, only because of my love for it. Much the same as when people are pressed to leave a relationship but choose to stay in a rut because they just “love him/her so much”, my love of food is epic. What truly makes food my enemy is that I’m a connoisseur who truly revels in every detail of its preparation through to completion. Indulging is but a small part of it.

It has cost me my figure for far too many times than I care to remember and for the fact that I have always found myself fight the urge, I have decided to tell myself the truth (once more). Number one: I am not a skinny person by birth-or otherwise. Secondly, too much of something is never good. Thirdly, moderation is ALWAYS key but most importantly IT IS ALL IN THE MIND.

So, in line with all the spring cleaning going on, I have decided to clean out my thoughts and to start that challenging road to better eating habits and towards a more healthy lifestyle.

Keeping the Faith

There is nothing as conflicting as being at a crossroads. That point in one’s life when you are not sure whether to go right, left, backwards or forwards-or to simply remain grounded. A few months ago I criticized religion and Christianity in particular for holding many Africans to ransom. I’m not planning to write a retraction because I still have reservations.

After sitting down with my colleague who is a staunch Christian, she left me with ample food for thought and a stern reminder-if not warning, that sitting on the fence for too long has its consequences. I pride myself on being a fair person who neither favours nor fears but I reckon a lot of the time I have simply sat on the fence, appeasing others from the sidelines. In reality, it is a very thin line to tread.

Our conversation opened my eyes up to a myriad of things like the meaning of faith, of standing firm for one’s values, morals, beliefs, ideals, etc. What am I really about? What do I stand for? For a long time I have comfortably settled under the label of “liberal”-arguing that people should live their lives the best way they know how, as long as it makes sense to them. I still stand by that though I now realise, in more ways than one, that I was somewhat a…drifter: Neither here nor there.

 

It has been an extremely testing, if not frightening couple of days. Having to choose the unknown always elicits great fear and doubt. There really is no sense in standing for two things that completely contradict and repel one another, like Christianity and the practice of African culture. According to wikianswers.com the term Secular Christian refers to people who “believe that Jesus was the son of God, but are [the] opposite of the spectrum when compared to fundamentalists and extreme conservative Christians. Furthermore, “they tend to believe in equal rights…”

Having observed the negative perceptions towards cultural practices from some black Christians one wonders whether those that practice both are bigger hypocrites. Are they nothing more than fence-sitters? Are they commitment phobes? Is there really a conflict of interest, seeing that one is religion and the other culture? What about insinuations that that those who believe in ancestors are ultimately without God? Does it matter what the perceptions are? Yet more questions.

Religion and politics are two things that individuals are constantly advised to avoid when conversing in social circles. Both are especially volatile because of the level of emotion that people attach when referring to them. Perhaps therein lies the lesson that people who have strong beliefs aren’t afraid to fight for whatever it is that they believe in.

I don’t know much, but I know that there have been numerous times when I flirted with danger and I came out unscathed. I do know that I have some foresight that is encrypted in my dreams and countless moments of dé jàvu. I do know that I feel some energy around me sometimes. I do know that there are things beyond my control, beyond my reach…and frankly, it scares the shit out of me! Of course it might just be a superstitious mind in overdrive-or a sign that I’m deeply connected to my roots, my ancestry. Yet I still don’t know how acknowledging all of this equates to some kind of distance between myself and the Creator in one way or the other because I still believe in Him.

I was raised to be a kind, giving, thoughtful and respectful individual. If they deviate from religious teachings for the mere reason that I have a lineage of ancestors that communicate with me once in a while, then I don’t have a clue. While they are a way of life for me, I have realised that Faith is a far more complex thing-it is a work in progress. Perhaps one day I will be able to decipher the meaning of all my experiences, perhaps I won’t. Maybe the easiest way is to remember Rex Rouis’ words- “Seeing is not believing. Faith comes by hearing, and seeing comes by believing and acting what you heard.”

 

 

Walking Tall: Impromptu Life Lessons

I have come to realise that most profound things happen while one is waiting. They happen when one has an opportune moment to absorb them in their entirety, when one is…ready. I have to admit that I am very impatient and as a result spent a number of days badgering myself for being unable to find the ‘right’ angle for my next blog post. I concluded that I had another onset of writer’s block. See, it’s far too easy to make rash conclusions and decisions than to let patience reign in when you suffer from an impatient streak.
When my colleague and I took a short stroll to the store across from our building one morning, we had no idea we would have something intriguing on our arrival. I bemoaned my increasing waistline and how I needed to lose some weight since spring has set in. Needless to say, it is going to be an uphill battle because I lack the discipline to combat my sweet tooth. We were about fifteen minutes early and had to wait until the store opened. Nothing major, we did a bit of window shopping at a shoe boutique nearby.

Quite the shoeshinista’s dream, we both marvelled at the sight before us. She is quite tall and slim; and her eyes were particularly set on pairs of pumps. Me? Well, I’m short and thick (in fact, my colleague and I are quite the textbook example of body types!) and I’m a heels kind of girl, it only makes sense. However, I was quite perplexed at how colour blocking has taken over everything and it didn’t help that some shoes are ridiculously high. I really think there is a conspiracy here!

We were joined by an older woman who was also waiting for the store to open. She quipped about how fabulous the shoes were and naturally, we couldn’t have agreed more. I then mentioned that though I was sold on a pair of stilettos, platform heels were really a bad idea for me. Boy, I had another thing coming! She gracefully threw my comments out of the window and prepared to give us what would be, personally, one of the most interesting lessons yet.

Lesson One: The Power of Shoes

My colleague and I both had flat or almost flat shoes on. We were told that shoes maketh a woman. Neo-feminist protests that men didn’t have to put up with ridiculous shoes simply fell on deaf ears as the woman told us that shoes have the power to not only transform posture, but they can give one an air of confidence and sophistication. She said flat shoes are capable of making one sloppy and complacent because they require so little effort. Shoes, are what sets us apart from men: They are one other thing that makes a woman sexy.
Lesson Two: Grooming

Though the woman indicated that she had put on some relaxer on her hair, I felt she could have done a better job. It didn’t matter though because she had confidence second to none; it didn’t matter what I thought because she revelled in her own skin and listening to her speak with such conviction made her all the more awe inspiring. A little make-up, a nice pair of earrings and some accessories are some of the things that can help liven up one’s mood.
Lesson Three: Always be ready
One of the most interesting aspects of that conversation was that women need to look the part –like learning to take ourselves more seriously, for instance. That means paying attention to things we deem to be miniscule or unimportant. More attention should be paid to work attire, etc. She also emphasized that falling into a comfortable space is one of women’s greatest setbacks.

Lesson Four: Letting Yourself Go

A definite no-no! We chuckled as the lady indicated that African women are significantly different from their Caucasian counterparts. African women have a bad habit of letting themselves go, and inviting early onset of old age. Once in their forties, she said, jeans and other sensible pieces of clothing are sent packing in exchange for frumpy frocks. Though it isn’t entirely about men, it isn’t fair on them either. Simply put, women need to keep those visual stimuli on.

A male friend once posted on Facebook that some women should put a “Learner” sign on the back of their stilettos so others won’t particularly mind when they fall over themselves. Let’s face it we see more of those embarrassing incidents than we’d like to recall, and more often than not men are embarrassed for us. There is no doubt that a great deal of skill is required to pull off that SEXY look. Alas, I don’t claim to speak for all women.

The woman I now know as Ma-Nkadimeng gave me ample food for thought. She reminded me that some of the greatest lessons aren’t always formal ones; that familiarity can come from strangers even. Like she said, “Some things will resonate with you, and some won’t…” and with that I confess that I’m still sceptical about those colour block platforms…sorry!
So, what impact did you have on somebody’s life today?