Some of South Africa’s police officers will be trained as occult specialists. Photo by Flickr user ER24 EMS (Pty) Ltd.
The South African Police Service is apparently training some of its officers to become “occult specialists,” according to a leaked memo. South African pagans are nervous about this — and rightly so.
In the United States, police forces have relied upon training from outside consultants, including the late Don Rimer. Unfortunately, most of these outside consultants have been far from experts in legitimate pagan or occult practice, and instead presented police with confused and sensationalized information that could only lead to profiling and accusing people who were otherwise likely innocent.
The South African police memo says that two detectives in each of the country’s provinces must be trained to deal with occult crimes, including “muti murders, curses intended to cause harm, vampirism, spiritual intimidation including ‘astral coercion,’ rape by ‘tokoloshe spirits,’ poltergeist phenomena, voodoo, black magic and traditional healers involved in criminal activities.” Those specialists will help other detectives in cases that seem “rooted in the supernatural.” It cautions police involved in these investigations to remain unbiased.
South Africa has a strong tribal tradition, and many in the region hold to older belief systems. The friction between these groups and Christians contributes to a kind of Satanic panic. This plays out in a number of places, including in the tabloid press, which has been known to run stories about children attacked by vampires or about religious leaders blaming all violent crime on Satan. A recent crime in which a young woman was set on fire was described as a Satanic ritual, and even teen poetry is blamed on Satanic cults.
It’s tough to see how the police will be able to remain unbiased. That’s one reason the South African Pagan Rights Alliance is worried about the new police plan:
“This newly envisioned scope of investigation must be viewed with suspicion and be of concern to anyone engaged in the practice of witchcraft, traditional African religion, and other occult spiritualities, including Satanism.”
It’s especially worrisome that police have not said who will be training the new “occult detectives” on the force. Will it be South Africa’s answer to Don Rimer? Or will it be folks from SAPRA and representatives from tribal faiths, who can help police tell the difference between legitimate religious practice and outright criminal activity? We can certainly hope for the latter, but there isn’t much precedent for it.