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Setting The Record Straight – Positive Feedback

Though positive responses to letters or comments sent to news media in an attempt to correct misconceptions or negative reporting are few, they do occur, and we try to give positive feedback to those who do respond positively to good-intentioned critique and attempts to correct or to educate journalists on issues affecting religious minorities.

While critique is often necessary in order to bring to the attention of offending news media that they have provided false information based on misunderstanding, it is also worthwhile for advocacy associations such as the Alternative Religions Forum to do the opposite – and give praise where it is due. This is particularly necessary where entities associated with other religions – most particularly other religions which are frequently stereotyped as acting against alternative religions in a hostile manner – provide objective, fair and positive material, commentary or coverage of alternative religions or subcultures in such a way as to encourage tolerance, acceptance, education and understanding – and especially so when they have done so on their own initiative.

A short list below (still being compiled) represents the instances we know of where news media have reacted positively to efforts to educate or to correct misleading or inaccurate reporting, or have reported news in such a way as to not fall into the many traps prevalent in covering “occult-related” incidents.

  • 20131125 – The Zululand Observer: “Witchcraft link in children’s killing – Uncle arrested for children’s murder” – WELLINGTON MAKWAKWA.  (“IN what was is believed to have been a witchcraft-related killing, the ‘sangoma’ uncle of two murdered eSikhaleni children has been arrested after their bodies were found in a shallow grave.The distraught Madlankala family is still in shock following the savage slaying of Lindokuhle (9) and his three-year-old cousin Nosiphiwa.Nosiphiwa was reportedly strangled to death, while the nine-year-old boy’s throat was cut open.Police said the little girl went missing at around 5pm, and the family undertook a search to find her, leaving the young boy with an uncle.Lindokuhle’s mother, Nokulunga, said her son had cried when they left him, begging her not to leave him with her brother.‘He cried and begged me not to leave him. When we came back Lindokuhle was also missing. We asked my brother about his whereabouts, but he did not give a straight answer,’ said the tearful mother.The eSikhawini police were called and a search conducted, but there was no sign of the missing children. A missing person’s case was opened.Later, according to a police statement, the little girl’s father inspected the family’s yard and noticed a newly dug grave in a half-built rondavel.The police were called back and the two bodies were recovered, leading to the uncle’s room being searched.There police found blood stains in the room, a bloody knife and a traditional bowl (ukhamba) which had muthi and blood inside. The 35-year-old uncle was arrested and charged with two counts of murder. He will appeared in court for a formal bail application in due course.”)

A letter was written to the Editor of this newspaper by Francisco Fumarola on behalf of the SAPRA, also a member of the ARF:

“Dear Editor, The Zululand Observer
Referring to your article on the 25th of November 2013, “Witchcraft link in children’s killings”.

The title is misleading. Did the man self-identify as a witch or a sangoma? Why call his practices “witchcraft” if the answer to the question is uncertain? Are his practices simply called witchcraft because it involved blood and muthi? Or because the practices were harmful? This reveals an unfortunate and undeserved negative bias against the term “witchcraft”.

Calling this murder a witchcraft killing is offensive and even harmful to those South African citizens who do self-identify as Witches/Wiccans and label their religion or practices as Witchcraft, based on traditions derived from Europe and pre-Christian pagan belief systems. The term “witchcraft” cannot therefore simply be used to stand in for a misuse of African Traditional practices as practiced by the perpetrator. It is unfair to suggest that innocent law-abiding Witches are involved in crimes or that murders are part of the peaceful nature-based religious system called Witchcraft.

Unfortunately, the term Witchcraft is wrongly used in South Africa and in other African nations as a term to scapegoat innocents accused of causing harm in their communities. Said “witches” are then burned, executed or exiled. This article may well add to the fear and superstition surrounding the words “witch” and “witchcraft”.

Kind Regards
Francisco (SAPRA)”

A reply was received from Zululand Observer on 20131126:

“Good day Francisco,
Thank you very much for your most enlightening letter, which we are happy to publish to set the record straight.

We have indeed incorrectly used the word as is commonly done in South Africa and will in future refrain from doing so.

Kind regards

  • The Truth About Satanism” by Lance E. King, Spiritwatch Ministries – “A rare decent response from a Christian source regarding Satanism. It does not rely on hysteria, conspiracy theories and urban myth to make its point. [The author] Actually bothers to find out what Satanism really is and while still promoting their own religious views and distancing themselves from Satanism, this is done in a decent manner without fear mongering and wild survivor stories.” – Francisco Fumarola.
  • Gauteng MEC takes swipe at pastors, warns of ‘harmful religious practices’”  September 29, 2014: “Gauteng Infrastructure Development MEC Nandi Mayathula-Khoza on Sunday criticised a local pastor and Nigerian pastor TB Joshua, while warning of “harmful religious practices”. Last week, French news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported that rescue workers said the building collapse was likely due to the addition of extra floors to the three-storey building without reinforcing its foundations. But Joshua, a charismatic pastor known to his followers as “The Prophet” or “The Man of God” and who claims to work miracles, suggested it was a deliberate sabotage against his ministry. Mayathula-Khoza, speaking on behalf of the Gauteng Premier David Makhura, criticised a Pretoria-based pastor who reportedly made his congregation eat grass and drink petrol. On September 24, it was reported that Rabboni Centre Ministries pastor Lesego Daniel told his Ga-Rankuwa congregation to drink petrol and said it tasted “sweet”. In a video posted to YouTube, members of his congregation are seen drinking the petrol as Daniel preached.” – This article marks the first time in South African mainstream press – and quoted from a government MEC, that the misconduct and abusive behavior by Christian clergy is described as “harmful religious practices”.
  • ‘Swaard’-seun: ‘Hy glo nie in die Here nie’” December 20, 2014 and “Swaardseun elke dag in kerk, pas glo goed aan in jeuggevangenis” December 21, 2014 – two articles posted through the South African Netwerk24 (Media24) franchise. This group had in the past been synonymous with pushing SRA misinformation in its media, throwing words like “satanisme” around where they had no bearing on specific cases at all – but these articles represent a milestone in how it appears to report on crimes that would normally be linked to the occult by amateur-detective reporters who have typically pushed a Christian evangelicalist angle into their work. That said, these two articles were a pleasant surprise. By stark contrast to previous articles on similar crimes, these articles come across as very muted and almost neutral while still not being entirely objective. Even so, there are still hints of religious bias while creating the impression that underlying the attempt to present news, there is a current of evangelical Christian speculation on SRA aspects to crimes of this nature, with a critical feeling about the fact that the killer “doesn’t believe in the Lord“. The article also pushes unfounded critical SRA fears that heavy-metal music and PC games make people commit violent acts. It doesn’t say it directly, but the focus of the article on the killer’s musical tastes and gaming activities and interest in collecting pocket-knives certainly implies it. As if music can make people kill. As if collecting knives denotes a killer. As if playing PC games makes people kill. Among the positives, they didn’t use the word ‘satanisme‘ once, or similar SRA terminology – not even when referring to the Morne Harmse case (in which previously they used it a LOT). We see this as another positive effect of the activism by the ARF, SAPRA and the STAT document. Even though these articles don’t once use the ‘s-word’ or speculate on the boy’s ‘involvement in the occult’, which in itself is remarkable enough to warrant listing this article here, Media24 is still not out of the woods yet. A good improvement.
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