GroundUp (Cape Town)

13 November 2013

South Africa: Occult Crime Unit Is Offensive to Common Sense and Morality

opinion

Decades after its formation, the Occult-Related Crime Unit (ORCU, founded by Kobus "Donker" Jonker in 1992) continues to waste public resources, misdirect police attention, and stigmatise young people who are by and large more misunderstood than malignant.

Amongst all the crimes that we can speculate police in this unit might have seen, there's one we can be sure of - and it's one that they are complicit in. The crime in question is against common sense and morality, and is vested in the reinforcing of a Christian evangelical "Satanic Panic".

In the context of South Africa's constitutionally-protected freedom of religion, restricting membership of a police unit to only Christians - and dedicating that unit to protecting a Christian version of reality - is itself worthy of special attention as an occult-related crime.

Because a unit can't investigate itself, I'd ask the Minister of Police to consider funding a new Occult-Related-Related Crimes Unit, which I volunteer to lead. Our mission? To be ruthless in pursuing crimes related to simplistic, moralising, and religiously prejudiced views of crime, society at large, and especially the youth.

Even on the very fuzzy definition of "occult" used by ORCU, too few such crimes occur to merit the existence of a dedicated unit. But it is in the definition of these crimes, as well as the background metaphysics and psychology, that ORCU starts to appear just as spooky as the crimes and motivations ORCU exists to combat.

In response (I presume) to a fairly constant barrage of criticism on social media, the South African Police Service (SAPS) removed the web page that gave us our best insight into how a unit in a 21st-century police force is being guided by ideas from the Dark Ages.

But thanks to the Wayback Machine, we can see not only that "Child has an interest in computer" is a sign that said child might be involved in a cult, but also that this and other equally ridiculous diagnostic advice has remained unchanged since September 2004 (the archived page from then - the earliest date the page was captured - being identical to the one that was removed in November 2013):

http://web.archive.org/web/20040922161210/http://www.saps.gov.za/youth_desk/occult/occult.htm

I don't mean to dispute that adolescents, and others, commit crimes in the service of motivations they themselves think of as occult. But when they do so, why is it that this motivation is singled out for special attention? We don't have a jealousy-related crimes unit, or a greed-related, tender-related, BEE-related, or alien-related unit - even though all of these provide possible motivations to commit crimes, mostly with far greater regularity than the occult would.

Then, if we find that a crime is committed because the guilty party thought themselves under some supernatural instruction, we know full well what to do next: arrange for that person to get the psychological help they clearly need, alongside whatever other sentence is appropriate.

Diagnosis and treatment of this particular confusion is not within the typical police-person's field of expertise, perhaps especially when that police-person is selected explicitly because they hold a competing - and no less bizarre, to some - set of metaphysical beliefs.

As mentioned above, we have freedom of religion in South Africa. You can be a Satanist if you like, and if you were refused employment on those grounds, the person refusing you would be acting illegally. Hell (sorry), refusing you entry into ORCU would probably be illegal too.

But because of the strongly Christian bias of ORCU, and government in general, you'd of course keep your exercising of freedom of religion to yourself. If you're a child, though - especially a child unfortunate enough to have parents who take SAPS's word for these things - you might find yourself described as a Satanist or cult member through no fault of your own.

The warning signs for parents include your using a computer, engaging in sexual activity, watching horror movies, losing your sense of humour and "rejecting parental values". In other words, being a teenager is a warning sign. Make sure to only part your hair to the right, because "draping hair across the left eye" is another dead giveaway.

It's also important that you avoid getting a nickname at school, because "phone calls from persons requesting to speak with someone other than your child's name" is apparently a warning sign for parents that you're being contacted by your "satanic/demonic name".

The document also speaks of cults, that come in "religion-based, personality, or secular" versions. I can't imagine what a secular cult might be, but suspect it has something to do with Idols, or MasterChef, given that cults can involve "unique games", "dress codes" and "chanting and singing".

More seriously: these attempted analyses of occult motive are premised in an occult view themselves, namely that of Christianity. The occult, and what is problematic about it, is being defined in a completely partisan way, by an agency of a Government committed to freedom of religion.

It is undeniable that some practitioners of any given occult view engage in harmful behaviour. It would nevertheless be untrue and unfair for us to generalise from those cases, concluding that the entire set of occult practises should be criminalised - especially if we do so from a position of known bias.

Lastly, the vulnerable group here is the youth, who are already besieged by insecurity around their identities. The ORCU document told parents - in a country where homophobia is virtually endorsed by the President, and corrective rapes a scourge - that "child experiences sudden gender confusion" is a warning sign of the occult.

It's therefore not simply the case that ORCU is a waste of resources that could better be deployed elsewhere. The unit, and its core beliefs, are themselves so offensive to common sense and morality that one might call it a crime.

The author teaches at the University of Cape Town.

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