Recently I had heard that the famous extreme metal band Rotting Christ will be playing in South Africa under a different name in order to appease religious protesters, or rather to get them off their back so they can play. I also heard from my friend Tony that people in South Africa are scared of Behemoth, another extreme metal band, coming to play as well. Apparently they’ve launched a petition to try and stop Behemoth from coming to play. Both bands are being brought to the country by Witchdoctor Productions, which also holds an annual metal festival called Witchfest, which was the subject of Christian protests last year. The owner of Witchdoctor Productions, Shaughn Pieterse, describes promotion of metal music in South Africa as difficult, partly because of the cost of getting bands to the country and partly because the country is a strongly socially conservative place, with a strongly religious Afrikaans community – the kind of community that would view metal as a threat. It’s very peculiar to think of moral panic surrounding metal being a thing of the past in Europe and even America, but not so much in Africa.
From what I’ve gathered, South Africa is still, as Pieterse said, a very conservative place. Not only is the country dominated by Christians, who make up about 80% of the total population, but its been having a Satanic Panic of its own. I’m sure there are people who think of the term “Satanic Panic” and think of the lurid (and unsubstantiated) fear of violent devil worshippers and ritual abuse that gripped the Western world during the 1980’s and early 1990’s – a phenomenon fueled largely by sensationalism in the media (I’m looking at you Geraldo Rivera) and certain novels that contained true (read: not really) accounts of “Satanic ritual abuse”. However, unlike the Western world (with the possible exception of the UK), the Satanic Panic didn’t really go away in South Africa, as in this decade you can still find plenty of stories in the country’s news media about stories of supposedly “Satanic” crimes. In South African TV, you can even find soap operas that depict witchcraft as a real phenomenon used to inflict real harm on individuals. This is even a country where the Minister of Sport can tell people that it’s “satanic” to boo the President, which to me just indicates that the government doesn’t like it when the people don’t approve of it or its leaders.
And if you thought that wasn’t crazy enough, South Africa actually has a special police force specifically dedicated to investigating and preventing “occult-related crimes”. That unit is referred to as the Occult Related Crime Unit. It was established in 1992 by a man named Kobus Jonker, who happened to be a born-again Christian, at the behest of the then Minister of Law and Order Adriaan Vlok. Their whole concept of “occult-related crime” is nothing more than fundamentalist Christian rhetoric regarding youth culture and anything that doesn’t follow the fold of Christian religion – not just Satanism, but witchcraft, magick, and esotericism in the broad and general sense, including traditions that have nothing to do with the left hand path.
They have been noted to have certain guidelines for how to identify “occult-related discourse”, including “sudden gender confusion”, cruelty towards animals, illegal drug use or sexual activity, interest in computers, depression, pre-occuption with black clothing, and a number of other ludicrous criteria that you can see a list of on the SAPS website. If you read that list then I am certain you will notice an obsession with Satanism and black magick, or rather the Christian conceptions of them, most likely sourced from the SRA hysteria of the 80’s that was still present in South African communities by the time the unit was started. It also means that if you’re a goth, a metalhead, or anything alternative or outside the norm, or even a just a teenager going through normal teenage things, you’re a potential target of a state-sponsored witch hunt. The unit’s current leader is Attie Lamprecht, and in one article he went on and on about how he thinks Satanism leads young people to crime, and he describes all Satanists as being “walking time bombs”. Just goes to show the kind of people in charge of that unit. But perhaps the most glaring detail about the unit is that, according to an issue of Servamus magazine, in order to serve in the Occult Related Crimes Unit, you have to be believe in Jesus, and the rationale for this requirement is that “the main enemy of Satanism is Jesus Christ”. Not only does this prove the unit’s obsession with Satanism, it also shows a body of government operating on clearly religious prerogatives and enforcing those religious prerogatives through the long arm of the law.
As you might be expecting, there have been people in South Africa who have condemned the Occult Related Crimes Unit as inherently unfair, particularly the South African Pagan Rights Alliance who feel the unit’s mandate contradicts policing ethics based on both the law of evidence (cases of the supernatural not being a matter for courts of law) and religious diversity, and feel that their definition of “occult-related crimes” puts pagan practice in the same category as Satanism and black magick. SAPRA also supports a petition calling for the disbanding of the Occult Related Crimes Unit – you can actually sign too if you are interested in changing the fact that somewhere there is a police unit doing what America’s evangelical Christians wish America was doing. But so far, I don’t the hysteria going away yet, and I don’t see the Occult Related Crimes Unit going away yet, probably they’re still doing what they’re doing.
In my personal opinion, the moral panic being expressed by those who wish to protest metal music coming to South Africa is only a piece of the religious hysteria that clearly still exists in the country and is clearly being legitimized by their government. Seriously, when you have a police unit that actively deals with “occult-related crime” specifically targeting Satanism (or rather perceived Satanism), you are now legitimizing superstition, ignorance, intolerance, and moral panic – all of which could instead be vanquished through education.