The Journal of Modern African Studies

Witchcraft and transnational social spaces: witchcraft violence, reconciliation and development in South Africa's transition process

Dirk Kohnert a1 1
a1 Institute of African Affairs, Hamburg.

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The strange collusion between occult belief systems and different trans-national social networks, embedded in specific transformations of local and global modes of production, results in unique but reinforcing modifications of witchcraft belief, its underlying structures and its impact on the process of democratisation. The amazing range of possible results has been indicated by the analysis of two outstanding examples of witchcraft violence in South Africa in times of transition: in the former homelands of Venda and Lebowa, seemingly ‘traditional’ elements of witchcraft accusations, mediated by a misguided struggle for liberation, stimulated the sympathetic attention of stakeholders beyond the local setting. On the other hand, the occult base of violence in the Transkei became so blurred by involvement of ‘modern’ elements of globalised markets of violence that it was hardly visible any more, although under cover its repressive effects were still very much alive. These different roots of witchcraft violence had serious repercussions on conflict resolution and genuine reconciliation, the base for any sustainable democratisation and development.


1 An earlier version of this paper was presented to the conference ‘Religion and Social Transformation in South Africa’ at the African Studies Centre, University of Cape Town, 18–20 September 2001. Thanks for valuable comments go to the discussants of the paper, Anthony Minnaar and Nokuzola Mndende, as well as to Karola Elwert, Heinz Jockers, Jeff Peires, Kirsten Rüther, Jahsa Wiles, and last, but not least, two anonymous referees. The responsibility for any fallacy of the article remains of course with the author.