Sowetan report on Satanism misleading

‘Schools tackle Satanism’ as printed in the 19 March 2013 edition of The Sowetan.

As one of the leading newspapers in South Africa, The Sowetan boasts a readership of two million. That would be two million readers misled by the article ‘Schools tackle Satanism’, as featured in the 19 March 2013 edition of your newspaper.

Quoted in this article are representatives of the Department of Education, alleged ‘occult expert’ Kobus Jonker and religious leaders. Wholly absent are comments from representatives of legitimate occult religions in South Africa; the very groups and organizations who exercise their Constitutional right to freedom of religion within the confines of South African law, and who are wrongfully accused as being “harmful”.

The ‘inter-faith’ partnership initiated by the Department of Education is biased and will only seek to perpetuate discrimination against minority religions. The only religious leaders included in the panel of those from Abrahamic religions and one representative of the Baha’i faith. No religious leaders from Pagan, Satanist or any other occult-orientated religion where contacted for their inclusion or input on the panel- the very representatives with actual knowledge on true occult and Satanic beliefs, practices and philosophies were wholly excluded.

Furthermore, the supposed ‘expert advice’ on occult and Satanic beliefs and practices, as provided by the faith-based panel, are discriminatory against Constitutionally protected minority religions; especially on the matter of ‘warning signs of involvement’.

The motivation for this initiative and resulting counseling material are alleged incidents of Satanism and occult involvement at school. What is most disturbing regarding this motivation is that the symptoms of teenage dabbling are being wrongfully treated, when the actual root of attention-seeking behavior is not addressed. Instead of considering socio-economic factors, parental influence (or lack thereof), psychological issues or home environment as possible causes of students seeking attention, constitutionally protected minority religions are scapegoated.

While one of the reasons given by the Department of Education for this initiative are growing concerns regarding violence in schools, it should be noted that Paganism, Satanism or any other occult-orientated beliefs neither condone or endorse violent or harmful practices. The labeling of such religions as “harmful” by Gauteng Education MEC Barbara Creecy, and her implementation of this program, constitutes hate speech as she incites discrimination against religious minorities; a matter which this alliance views in a serious light and has lodged a complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission as a result.

And just as this alliance takes Barabara Creecy’s recent views and statements regarding occult beliefs and practices seriously, so does it the prejudice and inaccurate information supplied in the sidebars, “Other alleged occult-related court cases” and “Signs that reveal the dark side”.

While the term “alleged” is used to feign any blatant bias of occult or Satanic practices of beliefs being criminal in nature, it is obvious from the two cases selected that the opposite is true. From evidence and Morné Harmse’s own testimony it is clear that he exhibited a passing interest in Satanism and occult beliefs and practices. However, evaluation by social worker Annette Vergeer showed that Harmse lacked in emotional maturity and by his own admission followed through his tragic plans to garner attention for himself. Satanism and occult beliefs and practices were not the root cause of his actions- psychological issues were.

As for the equally heartbreaking case of Kirsty Theologo; there was little evidence that the suspects were dedicated Satanists following a true Satanic religion. This is in addition to the media failing to state that actual Satanic beliefs hold life as sacred and the deliberate harming of another is considered a taboo. What the suspects were in fact doing is fulfilling myths propagated by Christian evangelists during the period termed the ‘Satanic Panic’. They were ‘dabblers’ who used the excuse of mythical ‘Satanism’ to commit a horrific act and true Satanism or occult-orientated religions were not the cause of their crime.

Neither of these two cases are linked to actual Satanic and occult beliefs and practices; nor do they prove that the crimes committed were as a direct result of Satanic or occult beliefs and practices. What this sidebar does do is sow seeds of intolerance towards these minority religions, and clearly shows The Sowetan’s bias against Satanism and occult-orientated religions.

The second sidebar, titled “Signs that reveal the dark side” is a dangerous and libelous piece of fiction. The ‘occult signs’ as provided by Kobus Jonker are not all explicitly found in Satanism. The inverted cross so often wrongfully attributed to Satanism is, in fact, a Christian symbol and remains a symbol of the Papacy today. The inverted pentagram is also found within the Pagan tradition of Wicca where it is often used to symbolize the second degree of the Gardnerian tradition. In this usage it does not carry any negative connotations, but instead represents man balancing the physical with the spiritual.

Evidence of self-mutilation or cutting is a serious sign, but of psychological issues that require the assistance of a registered counselor or psychologist; not a minister. The same can be said of deteriorating personal hygiene and nightmares, both of which can point to depression or other psychological issues. Neither Satanism, Paganism, nor any other occult-orientated religion requires its adherents to harm themselves or not bathe; nor do they induce nightmares in its adherents.

Considering the whirlwind of the teenage years where teenagers seem to believe they have to keep up with the latest fashionable trend, the alleged sign of a ”change in dress code” becomes obsolete. Likewise the sign of “rebellion” as been an indicator of occult involvement is dangerous. Rebellion is a common aspect of the teenage years as teenagers make the transition from child to adult. Pushing boundaries is their way of finding their place in the world and it is only cause for concern when healthy exploration is stunted by paranoid parents. Overbearing parents are also likely to be the cause of the ‘sign’ that names a “secretive group of friends” as being cause for concern. Being somewhat secretive is a byproduct of the teenage years as teenagers seek to establish their independence away from their parents.

And while demons may feature in some occult literature, it is not found in all occult literature. It should also be mentioned that the concept of a ‘demon’ is abstract; there is no factual report stating their supposed appearance so it leaves any drawing open to interpretation by adults. This sign makes for a dangerous notion where creative expression can be misinterpreted to the detriment of the young artist.

The signs provided by Moulana Mohammad are just as disturbing as those provided by Kobus Jonker. Both ‘signs’ of changes in sleep patterns and behavior point more to psychological disturbances or depression; neither of which are as a result of involvement in occult practices. These signs require the attention of a registered counselor or psychologist in order to be successfully resolved; and again, not a minister.

The issue of “body markings” is also an alleged sign vague enough to cause false concern for a multitude of parents. A body marking could be anything from a birthmark or scar, to a tattoo or piercing. From this sign a parent could misinterpret a scar as a result of an accident as being ‘proof’ of their child being involved in occult practices. It should also be stated that neither Satanism, Paganism nor any other occult-orientated religion requires its adherents to permanently mark their bodies as a show of devotion, thus making this supposed sign completely false.

What is most disturbing of all regarding this list of ‘signs’ is that it blatantly discriminates against adherents of Satanism, Paganism and occult-orientated religions not only in the false information supplied, but in the implication that these minority religions are ‘harmful’. What would The Sowetan’s reader response be if a similar list of false information was printed on how to determine if your child was involved in Christianity or Judaism; portraying either faith as being ‘harmful’?

In summary, the initiative as implemented by Gauteng Education MEC Barbara Creecy is unconstitutional as it:

  • denies students their constitutional right of freedom of religion,
  • endorses Abrahamic religions over other recognized minority religions in South Africa,
  • provides a platform from which non-Christian children could be wrongfully stigmatized as a result of the material presented by the religious leaders involved in the initiative,
  • and deliberately discriminates against Satanism and occult-orientated religions, beliefs, practices and philosophies by wrongfully labeling them as “harmful”.

While it can be understood that The Sowetan is only reporting directly on events relating to the matter in the body of the article, there is a clear bias evident in the lack of commentary of religious leaders of minority religions and in the discriminatory information provided on supposed ‘occult involvement’.

The South African Pagan Rights Alliance wishes to state on record that as representatives of Paganism in South Africa- an umbrella term for various religions that embrace various occult philosophies, beliefs and practices- we were never contacted for our input in the alleged inter-faith partnership initiated by the Department of Education. Nor were religious leaders from the South African Pagan Council, or any other occult-orientated religion contacted to partake in this partnership.

This alliance has lodged a formal complaint against the MEC Barbara Creecy and the Gauteng Department of Education, with the South African Human Rights Commission. The MEC’s statements regarding “occultism” and “satanism” constitute hate speech against religious minorities who have nothing whatsoever to do with recent cases of alleged satanic activity popularized by the South African media.