Rian Malan: What is the Cause of Modern-day Witch-hunts and Africa’s “Occult Revival”?
In an article for the The Spectator, Rian Malan comments on an academic paper by Silvia Federici titled “Witch-hunting, Globalisation and Feminist Solidarity in Africa Today”, which looks at the continued persecution of so-called witches in Africa.
Malan refers to scholars such as John and Jean Comaroff, authors of the paper “Bewitched!”, who blame the introduction of “late capitalism” for creating inequality and a “chill desperation attendant on being left out”. According to Malan the Comaroffs argue that the poor “assume the rich are using witchcraft to advance themselves, and so begin using the very same weapon to eradicate those above them in the food chain”.
Malan says Federici blames colonialism for creating the “new forms of anxiety and economic inequality” which first led to witch-hunts in Africa, and the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for perpetuating it.
However, Malan does not agree. He compares these academics to the witch-hunters themselves, saying “World Bank officials have yet to be burned at the stake, but that would be a logical outcome of regnant Marxist superstitions”. Desperation, worsened by soaring population, is the real cause of “Africa’s occult revival”, Malan believes.
I stumbled upon a grand story the other day, thanks largely to my girlfriend Shmerah, who is doing a masters in anthropology at the nearby University of the Witwatersrand. One afternoon some weeks ago, Shmerah informed me that she and her classmates were excited about the imminent arrival in Johannesburg of the Italian-American philosophy professor Silvia Federici, described as one of the planet’s foremost leftist theoreticians. We were in the car at the time, bickering about something or other. Knowing it would irritate me, Shmerah rummaged in her bag, produced one of Federici’s academic papers and proceeded to read it out loud.
‘Witch-hunting did not disappear from the repertoire of the bourgeoisie with the abolition of slavery,’ she intoned. ‘On the contrary, global expansion of capitalism through colonisation and Christianity ensured that this form of persecution [i.e. the witch-hunt] would become increasingly common in the early years of the 21st century…’.
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Image courtesy Gebrueder Beetz