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(University of Pretoria and Yale University)
ABSTRACT During recent years, fears of witchcraft and the violent punishment of witches have become commonplace in the Bushbuckridge region of the South African lowveld. My eldwork in a village of Bushbuckridge highlights the crucial importance of sexuality in witchcraft discourses. Narratives about the sexual practices of witches formed part of the same moral system as those about the unacceptable sexual conduct of ordinary villagers. But there were also important diVerences between these. Whilst the unacceptable sexual conduct of ordinary villagers transgressed general moral ideals, the sexual practices of witches transgressed local hierarchies of domination and were conceptualised as perversions of power. I suggest that the most appropriate perspective on witchcraft is one that seeks to integrate a concern with broader political economic processes with a rigorous analysis of the micro-politics of sexuality, kinship and morality.

On New Years Eve 1999, a lively celebration was held at a bar lounge in Impalahoek. Towards the end of the evening everybody danced in pairs: some people danced with their spouses, others with their lovers. Couples kissed romantically in the darker corners of the rooms and others had sexual intercourse in the bushes outside. The sight of these happenings excited Mandla Siboye. A lonely man in his early thirties, Mandla was somewhat mentally retarded, unemployed, very drunk, and without a woman. Mandla left the bar lounge and crawled into a nearby kraal, where he had sex with one of three goats which were to be slaughtered the next day. Ben Mokoena, who owned the goats, found Mandla sleeping in his kraal. There was indisputable evidence of his shameful deed: Mandlas zip was open and there was semen both on his trousers and on the goat. A youngster conrmed that he had actually seen what Mandla did. Ben was incensed and beat Mandla severely with a whip. Mandla ed, but he later returned to
Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2002 Also available online www.brill.nl Journal of Religion in Africa, 32.3


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continue sleeping in the goat kraal. Ben was so disgusted that he slaughtered only two goats and sold the polluted object of Mandlas aVection to an unknowing policeman. In 1977 the Pentecostal Christ for All Nations movement pitched a huge tent on the Impalahoek sports ground. Over the next three months, thousands of youths ocked to the tent from the surrounding villages to attend Christian revivalist meetings. Inside the tent the pastors eVected mass conversions, miraculously healed the sick, and made sinners confess and shun vices such as smoking, drinking and fornication. Youths sang along enthusiastically with the beautiful organ music and listened attentively to the energetic preaching and sincere testimonies. Unfortunately, men with the unsavoury reputation of being thugs were also attracted to the tent for the entire duration of the crusade. They stood outside smoking and drinking, carrying knives and tomahawk axes. One informant recalled, Inside people sang praises to the Lord. Outside others satised their physical hunger. These men proposed love to beautiful women who entered the tent, and raped any girl or woman who came to urinate in the veld outside. In one incident, three men forced a married woman, who was one month pregnant, to lie against an ant-heap and raped her. Simon, the last man to rape her, did it so viciously that the top of the ant-heap broke and both fell to the ground. Other men had to pull Simon from her by his legs to make him stop. Simon was later given a six-year prison sentence. Only towards the end of the crusade did the pastors issue ushers with whips and ask them to protect girls and women leaving the tent. While working at the Witbank coal mines, Sputla Nyathi became a homosexual (stabane). In exchange for money, Sputla had anal intercourse with other miners. He later became the wife of a Mozambican team leader (bhas boy).2 Sputlas fellow miners started calling him mamas baby and complained that the team leader shielded him from hard manual labour. Sputlas behaviour became increasingly feminine: he smoked ultra-mild cigarettes, braided his hair, wore tight trousers, and even put a teddy bear on top of his bed. Sputlas home-boys ceased being his friends. Some were oVended by his feminine appearance. Others disliked his possessive Mozambican husband. For several years Sputla failed to visit his family in Impalahoek. When the Mozambican eventually accompanied Sputla home, Sputla gave his father a brand new van as a gesture of reconciliation. Though some of Sputlas relatives did suspect that he had become a homosexual, his ostentatious display of wealth made them believe that he was really a moneylender. A month later Sputla again visited home with his lover to attend

Witchcraft and the Sexuality of Evil in the South African Lowveld


an ancestral ritual. To everyones surprise they did not stay at his parents home, but at a hotel. Sputlas parents heard that here they danced, embraced, and kissed in public. When the two men arrived at Sputlas parental homestead, peoples facial expressions changed. Even Sputlas grandmother refused to give him food. Men kicked over their beer and chased them from the yard. As they drove away, the men threw stones at their car. Since then, Sputla has never again visited Impalahoek. The evils of sexuality: transgressing moral ideals These stories, drawn from notes I compiled during my eldwork in Impalahoek (a village located in the Bushbuckridge region of the South African lowveld) capture diVerent aspects of sexual practices called bohlola, that were locally considered perverse and unacceptable. Bohlola encompassed the well-known sexual aberrations identi ed by Freud (1905), but also included deviations from conventional notions of masculine and feminine behaviour. Since 1990, I have spent a total of almost two years in Impalahoek as a white anthropologist, studying witchcraft (Niehaus 2001: 194-8). During my eldwork such stories were a common topic of conversation and gossip amongst the Northern Sotho and Shangaan village residents with whom I became well acquainted. Indeed, my research assistants, informants, and I have come to regard talk about intimate matters such as witchcraft and sex as a sign of the ties of friendship that we have managed to establish. Whilst the truth may not necessarily be the most relevant aspect of gossip, gossip is a particularly rich source of information. Gossip reveals social bonds, shows contradictions of behaviour, builds and destroys reputations, establishes criteria for respectability, and sanctions behaviour (Besnier 1994, White 1994). This is especially pertinent to sexuality. As Foucault (1990) reminds us, power is not only brought to bear upon sexuality through repression and punishment: power is also manifest in the creation of discourses about sexuality. Drawing upon my eldwork, this article examines the intricate relations among sexuality, witchcraft, and power. Recent anthropological studies have explored the manner in which discourses of witchcraft are embedded in contemporary political economic processes.3 These studies oVer an important theoretical advance over attempts to view witchcraft as a mechanism for the maintenance of social order. However, there is a denite danger that in our attempt to recast witchcraft as a political discourse about modernity, modernity might assume the form of a meta-narrativea sort of explanatory gloss that is imported and


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placed upon ethnographic observations (Englund and Leach 2000). At worse this meta-narrative might discourage the building of theory that is rooted in ethnographic practice, and lead us to de-emphasise other crucial aspects of witchcraft such as the micro-politics of sexuality, morality and kinship. The most appropriate perspective should integrate these concerns. Ethnographic literature on witchcraft in Africa is replete with references to perverse sexual practices. Azande women witches were imagined to bear kittens from a species of wild cat (Evans-Pritchard 1937: 51-57), Pondo women witches had sexual relations with small hairy beings called thikoloe, and Pondo male witches made love to snake-like familiars that changed into the shape of beautiful girls (HammondTooke 1974). In rural Zambia, women witches destroyed reproductive processes (Auslander 1993: 167), and amongst the Maka of Cameroon witches engaged in utterly shocking homosexuality (Geschiere 1997: 40). Literature on European witchcraft, too, highlights sexuality. Medieval European women were initiated into Satans service through intercourse with a male goat. Women witches possessed esoteric knowledge about contraception, conducted abortions, and indulged in collective orgies (Caro Baroja 1965: 85-87). Sexual intercourse with innocent children ranks among the most horrendous crimes of contemporary European Satanists (La Fontaine 1998). Unfortunately, however, our best-known attempts to conceptualise the prominence of sex in discourses of witchcraft still rely on rather out-dated psychoanalytic and functionalist theories. From the former perspective, Kluckhohn (1944: 225) argued that stories of witchcraft expressed in fantasy sexual desires that were culturally disallowed, but unconsciously wanted. In a more sociological vein, Mayer (1954: 48) suggested that references to forbidden sexuality in witchcraft attributions reversed moral standards and hereby functioned as a technique of social control. Crehan (1997) restated this theory in more fashionable prose, when she wrote that discourses of witchcraft can be seen as a mirror, albeit a cloudy one, in which kinship bonds are shown in a reversed and distorted form (p. 187). The material that I collected shows how anxiety about witchcraft had grown through time. In the 1913 Land Act, Impalahoek was scheduled for exclusive African occupation. Residents became rent tenants who paid taxes to land-holding companies, and later to the South African Native Trust, for residential, cultivation, and stock-keeping rights. The settlement pattern was one of scattered metse (sing. motse, lit. village or family). A motse comprised the homesteads, elds, and ances-

Witchcraft and the Sexuality of Evil in the South African Lowveld


tral graves of a co-resident agnatic cluster. Its inhabitants were typically a grandfather, his sons, daughters-in-law, unmarried daughters, children, and grandchildren. Fields were as large as the motse could cultivate, and no stock limitations were imposed. During this period, residents of Impalahoek attributed all sorts of misfortunes to witchcraft (loya). In Northern Sotho the term witches (baloi, sing. moloi ) denotes a broad conceptual category. It refers to persons who had inherited the power and inclination to harm from their mothers, and also to those who deliberately set out to acquire harmful substances and skills. The activity of witchcraft includes poisoning, the use of potions, and the deployment of familiars and zombies. The most lethal poisons were insecticides, crocodile brain, and slow poison (sejeso). Once ingested, slow poison transformed into a frog, lizard, or snake that devoured the victims body from inside. Witches used potions (dihlare), manufactured from herbal and animal substances, to inuence the behaviour of their victims, and commanded familiars (dithuri )such as owls, hyenas, cats, baboons, and snakesto attack their victims. They could also change their victims into diminutive zombies (ditlotlwane), whom they employed at night as servants to do domestic work, herd cattle, and work in the elds. With the advent of apartheid in 1948, Impalahoek became part of the Bushbuckridge Native Reserve, and was incorporated into the Bantustan, Lebowa, in 1973. Population removals and also the implementation of villagisation and agricultural betterment schemes in 1960 4 brought about the demise of subsistence agriculture. Large agnatic clusters were fragmented into smaller segments, and sons were allocated small residential stands separate from those of their fathers. Having lost their elds and cattle, households came to rely on the wages earned by migrant labourers working on the Witwatersrand. By the time of South Africas rst democratic elections in 1994, the population of Impalahoek had grown to over twenty thousand people. Witchcraft attributions escalated as population removals brought about increased tensions between neighbours, and the system of oscillating migrant labour generated new forms of inequality that were fertile breeding grounds for feelings of envy and resentment. Villagers feared that a vibrant secret trade had developed in witchcraft substances and that witches had begun to use ever more dangerous familiars, such as the ape-like tokolote and the snake-like mamlambo. Since 1960, households regularly paid diviners (dingaka, sing. ngaka) or Christian healers to fortify their homes against witchcraft. The violent punishment of witches also became commonplace. During the anti-apartheid struggles


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witchcraft eradication movements acquired strong political overtones. Male youths, known locally as Comrades, assumed the forefront in witchhunting. The Comrades accused hundreds of elders of being witches, destroyed their homes, and banished them from their natal villages (Ritchken 1995, Delius 1996 and Niehaus 2001). Between 1985 and 1995 at least 389 witchcraft-related killings occurred in the Northern Province (Ralushai et al., 1996). 5 I argue that in Impalahoek narratives about unacceptable sexual conduct (the evils of sexuality) and about the sexual practices of witches (the sexuality of evil) were closely related and could be considered as part of a single general moral system. By condemning certain sexual practices as perverse, or by associating them with witchcraft, villagers upheld consensual heterosexual intercourse as a moral ideal. Gossip, repressive sanctions, and violent forms of punishment unied these moral beliefs and mobilised popular sentiment against both sexual transgressors and assumed witches (Durkheim 1933). However, I suggest that important diVerences between these narratives emerge when they are considered against the backdrop of domination, subordination, and power. Whereas unacceptable sexual practices (bohlola) pervert general moral ideals and discourses about them are fairly open-ended, the sexual practices of witches pervert hierarchies of domination. The latter equation rests on the conception of witchcraft as a weapon of the weak, used by socially subordinate and deprived persons against those who are more fortunate. 6 In the following sections, I highlight the social contexts of witchcraft and sexuality, and then explore the diVerent ways in which the sexuality of witchcraft perverts power. Because I achieved better rapport with men, I portray mens perspectives in greater detail and more accurately than those of women. Marriage, sex and the contexts of witchcraft In Impalahoek witchcraft accusations arose from domestic relations that were marked by social inequality. Those most frequently accused of witchcraft were subordinate persons like daughters-in-law dominated by their husbands parents, aYnes without descendants, wives with unaVectionate husbands who did not support them, co-wives accorded little respect, and jilted lovers. Theoretically, witchcraft was open to all. But villagers argued that only deprivation could produce enough envy, hatred, and resentment to motivate people to use witchcraft. As the most basic unit of social organisation until 1960, the motse was a cluster of co-resident agnates rather than a strict patrilineage

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(Kuper 1975: 71-72). The members of diVerent clusters could form a totemic group (thereto), providing assistance and hospitality. Like most southern Bantu, Northern Sotho and Shangaan kinship systems were Iroquois, and were marked by bifurcate merging. The fathers and mothers siblings of the same sex were known by the same term, crosssex siblings of parents by diVerent terms, and parallel cousins were equated with siblings. In all these relations there was a pervasive elderyounger distinction. Cross-cousins on both sides were classied together with no reference to age or sex, and shared a joking relationship marked by permitted disrespect (Hammond-Tooke 1981: 24-26). Whereas Northern Sotho-speakers frequently married their crosscousins (MBD or FZS), Shangaans avoided marrying any relatives. However, in both cases arranged marriages were common, and parents assisted their sons in paying bridewealth cattle. Residential rules were strictly patrilocal. After a newly married wife had moved into the household of her husbands parents, she was expected to be subservient and to work for them. As in the case of patrilineal and patrilocal regimes elsewhere, wives retained membership of their fathers descent group on marriage (Sacks 1998). A wife was still addressed by her maiden surname. Her ambiguous status was expressed by the metaphors of the body and head. Informants remarked that bridewealth only signalled the transfer of a womans body: her head remained the property of her own agnates. Only after the husbands younger brothers had all married could he and his wife set up their own homestead. Men perceived polygyny as the ideal, but it was expected that men should get the approval of their wives before entering into additional marriages (Hammond-Tooke 1981: 21). Since the traumas of villagisation there had been several changes in kinship and marriage. The fragmentation of large agnatic clusters and the dispersal of their constituent units to diVerent residential stands undermined the material basis of agnatic co-operation. Households were deprived of their elds, and income was now generated solely by individual wage earners, outside the agnatic group. But, even in this new context, an appeal to cognatic kinship has remained the most eVective way of getting social support. Of the 291 witchcraft accusations that we recorded during eldwork only eighteen (6%) occurred between cognates. By contrast, the relations between aYnes and those between spouses had become exceptionally disharmonious. Sixty-six (23% of all) witchcraft accusations were made between aYnes, twenty-two (8%) between spouses, and thirty-two (11%) between the diVerent houses of polygynous


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marriages. The tensions between aYnes were most apparent in the intense and frequent quarrels over bridewealth payments and over the diVusion of migrant labour remittances. Since villagisation there had been less available grazing land and increased stock theft. Consequently, cattle herds had diminished so greatly that parents could no longer aVord to assist their sons with bridewealth. Sons were now expected to pay bridewealth themselves, in cash. Due to great nancial insecurity, many young husbands incurred signicant bridewealth debts to their parents-in-law.7 Hence the status of wives was more ambiguous than before and wives could retain recourse to the protection of their agnates throughout their conjugal lives. Elders complained bitterly that daughters-in-law had become insubordinate since the 1960s, and now cooked only for themselves, their husbands, and children. Elders also felt extremely disconcerted that husbands working in the urban areas now sent home remittances to wives rather than to natal families, and felt disadvantaged by the South African legal requirement that widows should inherit the entire estate of their deceased husbands. When wives or their children suVered misfortune, they frequently accused their parents-in-law of witchcraft. Elders, in turn, suspected daughters-in-law of poisoning the food they cooked, and of treating the clothes they washed with potions. By accusing a widow of witchcraft, the agnates of her deceased husband undermined her claims to inheritance. By the 1990s conjugal bonds were extremely fragile and informants were adamant that rates of separation and divorce had become much higher than they had ever been. Informants related the fragility of marriage to labour migration, which obliged husbands and wives to live separately for the largest part of their working lives. In addition, they argued that traditional extra-marital liaisons (bonyati ) were now much more pervasive.8 Previously husbands only kept paramours when their wives were pregnant or just had given birth: now most husbands sought to keep paramours permanently. Wives readily deserted husbands who were consistently unemployed, and husbands separated from wives who failed to bear children, or to keep house properly. Both parties invoked witchcraft accusations to justify these separations. Husbands made most of these accusations. Because wage-earning opportunities were largely restricted to men, they could separate from their wives without experiencing a loss of income. (In a sample of 100 households, 88% of the husbands were employed and only 17% of their wives. See table 1, below.) Husbands could also easily attribute motives for witchcraft to their wives. Men knew that wives resented being dominated and deprived of remittances, and they feared that their wives could retaliate by means

Witchcraft and the Sexuality of Evil in the South African Lowveld


of witchcraft. For their part, wives seldom had suYcient money to aVord separation from their husbands. Hence it was in a wifes interests to remain married for as long as she could tolerate it. Wives tended to accuse their husbands paramours of witchcraft. These accusations expressed resentment against illicit love aVairs and were, in eVect, bids for reconciliation.

Table 1: The Employment Status of Adults in Sampled Households by Gender and Marital Status, Impalahoek, 1991-1992 EMPLOYMENT STATUS Pensioner Employed locally Commuters Migrant labourers Not working TOTAL M 30 24 23 36 11 124 MEN NM T 4 6 3 21 19 53 34 30 26 57 30 177 WOMEN M NM T 28 13 1 2 78 122 27 13 6 8 24 78 55 26 7 10 102 200 ALL ADULTS 89 56 33 67 132 377

M = married, NM = not married, T = total.

Enmities between co-wives, too, generated suspicions of witchcraft. Fourteen of the 120 husbands in my sample of one hundred households were polygamists.9 As elsewhere, the diVerential statuses of cowives and unequal provision lay at the roots of disharmony between them. A mans senior wife would always be called chief wife (mosadi tsong) by his junior wives, and big mother (mma mogolo) by their children. She seldom did domestic work, was always the rst wife to be presented with gifts when the husband returned from work, and her children and daughters-in-law always took precedence over those of her husbands junior wives.10 Though polygynists were generally wealthier men, few could provide adequately for many dependants in present circumstances. Dissatised co-wives were common targets of witchcraft accusations. Indeed, a diviner said that she thought polygamy ought to be outlawed because it so often led to witchcraft. (Polygyny is currently legal in South African law.) Senior wives most commonly accused junior wives of deploying witchcraft to advance their own selsh interests. Eighteen (7%) of the witchcraft attributions that we recorded arose from the tensions between neighbours over pre-marital and extra-marital love aVairs. Pre-marital love aVairs, in particular, were potentially


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a bitter source of conict. This was particularly so when young men who had impregnated their girlfriends refused to pay bridewealth or even a ne called ho hlaola. (The ne was usually set at half the value of bridewealth, and absolved young men from any further responsibilities towards their girlfriends parents.) The situation was so desperate that pregnant women without any support had back-street abortions or committed infanticide. By accusing their girlfriends, or agnates of their girlfriends, of witchcraft young men sought to justify their own reprehensible behaviour. Competition between adolescent lovers could also culminate in witchcraft accusations. The sexuality of evil: transgressing the norms of power The manner in which witchcraft is embedded in local structures of domination becomes even clearer when we focus on the diVerent manifestations of sexuality in narratives of witchcraft. In these narratives, witchcraft is alternatively presented as a mystical means of manipulating lovers and spouses, of violent sexual attack, of compensation for the absence of human lovers, of lesbianism, and of committing incest and inducing abortions. In each of these capacities the sexuality of evil does not merely transgress cultural norms: it transgresses the norms of domination and of power. i) Mystical Manipulation. Because male domination over women was culturally normative and naturalised, there was little need for men to resort to potions to enhance their status vis--vis women. Men only used potions in certain vulnerable situations, such as when they competed with other men for a womans aVection, or sought to ensure the faithfulness of their wives whilst they worked away from home. In one neighbourhood men gossiped that Calvin Machatea debt collector at a local furniture storeused herbal concoctions to make himself sexually attractive to women. Calvin visited women when their husbands were at work, and granted special business concessions to those who had sex with him. They said that Calvin had a queue of girlfriends and that he had fathered six children by three diVerent women. In 1993 Calvin had an aVair with the wife of a taxi owner and even openly took her on a shopping expedition to Johannesburg. Though her husband caught Calvin red-handed, he did not assault Calvin, but merely argued with him. My informants speculated that Calvin could only aVord to be so arrogant because he had access to a reprehensible source of power. Calvin even speaks like a witch. He goes around saying, I see no men around here! Around here I am the man .

Witchcraft and the Sexuality of Evil in the South African Lowveld


Men could reportedly deploy an arsenal of diVerent potions to make the women they desired separate from their partners. When thrown into a re, phatanya stirred up trouble between spouses. If a man told his wife to cook she would tell him to go to hell. When setena was left at a mans gate and he stepped over it, he would see his wife in a completely diVerent light, become nauseous if he merely looked at her, and be dissatised with everything she did. Moragelakgole caused migrants to disappear forever and xidinwa (a potion from Swaziland), when thrown into a mans food, made him hate everything and everyone, even himself. In the past, male migrants had buried potions manufactured from puV adders11 in their kraals to make their wives stay at home. Nowadays male migrants used likubaloa much more lethal type of potionto prevent their wives back home from having sex with other men. To do so men rst rubbed likubalo into their waists and then doctored their wives by having sex with them. Informants took great delight in elaborating upon the diVerent types of likubalo. They said that witches made one type by cutting a small piece of esh from a dogs penis, drying it, and grinding it into a ne powder. Once it had been administered to a wife, her husband would ask her to close a penknife. This would cause her and any other man who had sex with her to become stuck together like mating dogs. Lovers could only be released from this uncomfortable embrace if the husband himself opened the penknife. Other types of likubalo could cause a snake to emerge from her vaginal canal to strike the lover; the lover to be caught by others; his penis to curl up like a millipede; or the wife to have diarrhoea whilst copulating. In one instance a man I heard about suddenly started bleeding through his nose and mouth whilst he made love to his girlfriend, and he vomited blood on her bed. The man had always been healthy and strong, but died in hospital that very evening. His girlfriend accused her former lovera Mozambican immigrantof having doctored her with likubalo. However, men feared the witchcraft of their female lovers and wives more than they feared the mystical machinations of any male competitors. Men were uneasily aware that for women love and marriage were nearly always uncertain enterprises, and knew that young women suVered from excessive domination at the hands of their lovers, husbands, and aYnes. Men imagined that women utilised a pharmaceutical cornucopia to consolidate their positions and to assert themselves. These included: likulabo to make their husbands impotent whenever they were with other women; xidinwa or setena to chase away their paramours; vurivata to calm very aggressive men; and a potion called korobela to win


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mens love and aVection. Women were even believed to use chickens in a devious way: they suVocated the chickens between their thighs, added potions, and stood over the boiling pot with their legs astride. Once doctored in this manner the man would never again look at another woman. Informants believed, that once ingested, love potions could transform into slow poison that gradually devoured ones body from inside. Witchcraft was taken as an explanation of why certain men were so committed to their lovers, and so exceptionally tolerant of their lovers misdemeanours. A male informant recalled that while he worked at a coal mine in Witbank, just outside Johannesburg, his work mate from the Transkei, Vusi Mbeki, moved into a shanty with his girlfriend. For more than three years Vusi did not write a single letter to his wife, children or relatives at home. Neither did he telephone, send money, or visit them. Eventually Vusis younger brother came from the Transkei to fetch him. But, after having sex with a woman from Witbank, the younger brother too refused to go home. Three months later Vusis father arrived and forced his sons to accompany him home by taxi. In a week, however, Vusi and his brother had returned to Witbank. Their actions convinced my informant that a love potion called korobela was at work. Love potions also explained heightened sexual arousal. Amidst great laughter, informants recalled how a man they knew was so desperate to have sex with his second wife that he chased her down the street outside their home, while he was naked and had a huge erection. The story of a man named Justice Monna is archetypal of the husband so manipulated by love potions that he became his wifes subordinate. Justices wife was having extra-marital love aVairs simultaneously with a chief, a teacher, and a taxi owner. She often left home for periods of up to ve days and once even deserted Justice for six months, only coming home at month ends to collect money. Though friends told Justice that his wife was having sex with other men, he refused to confront her. He would merely tell them, My wife has problems. She is bewitched. Justice patiently waited for his wife to reform. Meanwhile he continued to give her money, wash her clothes, cook for her, and care for their children. Eventually, Justice lost his job at a clothing store and went insane. This was taken as denitive proof of witchcraft. My informants did not see a wifes ability to dominate her husband as natural: they explained it as an outcome of the occult. Women, of course, denied using witchcraft against their men. But it is very signicant that the vast majority of the clients of diviners and Christian healers in Impalahoek were women. Their complaints were largely about symptoms of distress such as bodily pains, headaches,

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weakness, irregular menstruation, and depression, but also included misfortunes such as being unable to nd a husband, or having a husband who did not send regular remittances. To treat these ailments the healers provided them with counselling, or administered herbs and remedies prescribed by the ancestors or by the Holy Spirit. For example, a healer of the New Ebenezer Apostolic Church prayed for a woman whose migrant husband deserted her. To rekindle the husbands love, the healer took a bowl and mixed water from behind a river stone, seawater, soot from the kitchen, and soil from the garden. She then soaked the husbands shirt in the mixture and hung it out to dry. The healer also lit candles around the patient and prayed for her. She told me that these items stood for the home, unity, and power. The river water has been together for a long time, separated and reunited. Seawater is omnipotent like God: it has power over all things that live in it. During the correct season, she said, nothing can stop the maize seeds from growing. As they sprout the husband will come home. What men constructed as witchcraft, women saw as a desperate last resort to heal disharmonious social relationships. The perceived and real use of potions by men and women in vulnerable situations did not pervert cultural ideals. Potions strengthened erotic attraction, love, respect and Christian monogamy. Indeed, potions such as likubalo specically enabled spouses to police their partners sexual relations and to punish sexual misdemeanours. Potions were, however, associated with witchcraft. They perverted masculine domination and enabled women to challenge mens prerogative of keeping lovers whilst at the same time commanding chastity and obedience from their wives. Mens fear of love potions alluded to the capacity of erotic attraction to subvert ordered hierarchy. Lovesick men were helpless victims of their own uncontrollable yearnings for women, and were publicly humiliated by their own feeling.12 ii) Violent Sexual Attack. Rape and child sexual abuse had become pervasive and extremely disturbing features of the South African social landscape. My informants spoke of events such as the rape of young women at the Pentecostal crusade, as described in the opening vignette of this article, with shock and horror. Women have, on occasions, executed rapists. In 1976, women intoxicated a serial rapist called Setsotsane (little thug) by oVering him huge quantities of beer, tied him to a chair, and hacked him to death with axes. Police who came to investigate the murder kicked his dismembered corpse, and women rejoiced, danced, ululated, and beat dingomane drums as a police van ferried away his remains through the dusty streets of Impalahoek. None of Setsotsanes


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killers were arrested or tried in court, and villagers saw such revenge murders as justied. Rapists do not dare to make excuses for their reprehensible behaviour. It is therefore unsurprising that violent sexual attack was a prominent theme in narratives about witchcraft. In local belief witches used a being called tokoloti and a device known as mshoshaphanzi to instigate unwanted sexual intercourse . Informants described tokoloti as a large baboon (thwene) that had horrible teeth and pronounced sexual features. The male tokolot i had an enormous penis that could stretch to virtually any size, and the female had huge breasts.13 It was believed that male and female witches alike used the tokolot i to rape and abuse those whom they desired sexually. The tokolot i also caused infertility: it made women abort or give birth to horribly deformed creatures; and it sucked mens blood, or injected them with potions to make them impotent. The very idea of sexual intercourse with the tokolot i provoked revulsion and disgust. Women feared that a tokolot i had visited them at night if they felt wet in the morning, or if their underwear had mysteriously been removed. Diviners also told youngsters who dreamt of sex that the tokoloti had troubled them in their sleep. Previous theoretical accounts of the thikolose amongst Xhosa-speakers in the Eastern Cape of South Africa failed to illuminate the situation in the lowveld. Wilson (1951) regarded the thikolose as a compensatory image for women whose sexual desires were repressed by rules of clan exogamy, excluding many men resident in local areas from marriage. Alternatively, Hammond-Tooke (1974: 132) explained the thikolose in terms of mens perception of womens deprivation. The myth that resentful women took ape-like lovers to wreak havoc on men, he argued, provided an ex post facto rationalisation for discrimination. Unlike in the Eastern Cape where mainly women were accused of witchcraft (see Wilson 1951, Hammond-Tooke 1970), men too were often accused of witchcraft in the lowveld. Men comprised eighteen (45%) of forty persons accused of witchcraft among the Lobedu in the 1930s (E.J. and J. Krige 1943: 264), and between 46% and 63% of all those accused of witchcraft in Bushbuckridge during the 1990s (Stadler 1994, Niehaus 2001). In the lowveld the tokolot i can thus be interpreted more fruitfully as personifyingif that is the word unfullled and illicit sexual desires. The image of the tokolot i as a large baboon, descriptions of the uses to which it was put, and the duality between the witch and the familiar all support this interpretation. Baboons are suYciently human-like for it to be imagined that they could instigate sexual intercourse with humans. Moreover, baboons are

Witchcraft and the Sexuality of Evil in the South African Lowveld


perceived as uninhibited, as displaying a childish sense of morality, as lacking the restraints that culture imposes upon their desires, and as being sexually promiscuous. The perception of baboons as strong and ugly also makes them symbolically appropriate as instigators of unwanted intercourse. Metaphorically, the relationship between the witch and the tokoloti resonated with the duality between a persons corporeal body (mmele) and its invisible, libidinal, animal-like desires (duma). Being the source of life energy, the latter was often the focus of fascination. At times illicit desires were suppressed, at other times they manifested themselves, dominated and enslaved the body. Likewise, the identities of the witch and the tokolot i were not always clearly separate. They were often portrayed as two diVerent manifestations of the same being. Witches transformed themselves into the tokolot i by smearing animal fat on their own bodies. The tokolot i too assumed the witchs appearance. When witches set oV to bewitch others at night they used strong dihlare to lull their spouses into a deep sleep and left a tokoloti that looked like them behind. Male witches deployed the mshoshaphanzi to perpetrate rape.14 A male witch put the devices in his pocket, and approached any desirable woman. He then rubbed the mshoshaphanzi and had sexual intercourse with her from a distance. The mshoshaphanzi momentarily hypnotised the victim so that she responded positively to his advances. Though informants believed the device was manufactured from parts of the tokoloti, this idea was clearly modelled on technologies from makgoweng (places of whites). Informants compared the mshoshapanzi to a remote control for a television set and remote locking devices for motor cars. Though people could not observe this action, they inferred it from the perpetrators facial expressions. For example, a shop-owner once saw a man enter his store, stare at his wife, and make peculiar gestures. Believing that the man was using a mshoshaphanzi, he lashed the man with a whip. Like the tokolot i, the mshoshapanzi portrayed amoral, uninhibited male sexuality. During eldwork I recorded twenty-four accounts of witches who were accused of violent sexual attack: eighteen purportedly used the tokoloti and six the mshoshapanzi. Those accused were elderly men who had lost their sexual virility, unemployed men who were undesired as husbands and lovers, and women. For example Tom Zwanea ftyyear-old man who was unemployed and had never been marriedwas accused of having assumed the shape of the tokolot i to rape women and to castrate men. Another of the accused was a male teacher called Exom Nokeri, who stayed at the teachers quarters with his two sons


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while his wife worked in Bushbuckridge. Exoms women colleagues became concerned after he told a woman teacher, with whom he had never slept, that she was useless in bed. Once schoolgirls complained that Exom had detained them in the library for no apparent reason, and the principal threatened him with expulsion. (Some girls said that they had felt wet between their legs.) Women teachers had become very wary of Exom. Whenever he stared at them they frantically stabbed the air in front of their legs with pens to ward oV his mshoshapanzi. Only in witchcraft narratives did women rape men. Nine persons accused of using the totoloti or the mshoshapanzi were women. Elizabeth Maatsie, one of the accused, allegedly assumed the shape of a large baboon to enter the room of a young male bank teller and to have sex with him. Though only nineteen, Elizabeth already had had several lovers and had had an abortion. Her parents were desperate for her to marry a securely employed man. In everyday cases of rape, assertive men attacked young women in a most humiliating act of domination. In witchcraft, socially subordinate persons perpetrated sexual violence as an act of revenge against those who were more inuential than they. This diVerence was not one in morality: the diVerence lay in domination and power. iii) Witchcraft as Sexual Compensation. According to villagers, witches used the mamlambo as a sexual partner to compensate for the absence of a human lover. Witches acquired this familiar in the form of a root, twig, or as something like a sh contained in a bottle. The root seemed to be alive and it glowed at night and cast a mysterious light throughout the home. After some time it transformed into a large hairy snake, with awesome fangs and eyes that shone like diamonds. During daytime, witches hid the snake in a trunk or in a river. The mamlambo brought the witch lots of money and assumed the shape of a white man or woman with silver, shiny hair who became the witchs lover at night.15 However, the hedonistic pleasures derived from the mamlambo were at great cost. The mamlambo was exceptionally possessive and soon enslaved its keeper. It prevented single people from marrying, and attacked the spouses of married persons. In exchange for the money it brought, the mamlambo would also demand regular sacrices of chicken, beef, and human blood. Should witches fail to satisfy these demands, the mamlambo would kill them.16 Diviners and Christian healers performed a special ritual to remove a mamlambo from peoples homes. I would argue that just as tokoloti symbolised sexual desire, similarly the mamlambo symbolised peoples desire for money. This interpreta-

Witchcraft and the Sexuality of Evil in the South African Lowveld


tion is suggested by its images as a white person and a snake, by its association with water, and by the duality between the witch and the mamlambo. The association of whites and wealth is indicated by the wellknown Tsonga proverb, Mulungu a nga na xaka, xaka ra yena i mali (White people have no kin/nation, their kin/nation is money) ( Junod and Jaques 1939: 78). The suggestion that the mamlambo dwelt in rivers is very signicant. During the bygone era of agricultural self-suYciency, water was the source of peoples livelihood, prosperity, and wealth. Hence, throughout southern Africa, water is associated with money. (Botswanas currency is the Pula [rain].) Like water, money sustained life. But money also caused death. People drowned in rivers, were struck by the lightning that accompanied rain, and could be murdered for money. According to the doctrine of the many Zionist-type churches in Impalahoek, any money acquired by dishonest means was profoundly dangerous. A Zionist minister referred to Acts 1 which describes how Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, purchased a eld with his wages of inequity, but later committed suicide. His entrails gushed out over the eld that became known as Field of Blood. This association illuminates the perception that the mamlambo fed on human blood. In lowveld folklore, snakes objectied the dangerous qualities of water and money. In symbolic terms, a snakes glistening scales resembled shimmering water and shiny nickel. Like the mamlambo (mother of the river in Xhosa), mmamokebe, a mermaid which causes storms, and nzonzo, a water serpent that abducts people and trains them to be diviners, dwell in water. Zionists also describe the unrighteous Mammon (riches) as a money snake. The identities of the witch and the mamlambo are intertwined in a complex manner. As in the case of the tokoloti, the witch could assume the shape of the mamlambo and vice versa. Certainly, the lives of the witch and the familiar were portrayed as mutually dependent. In December 1992, a large python slivered across a dust road and approached a village settlement. Observers suspected that the python was a mamlambo as there are no bushes in the vicinity where large snakes can live. Only hours after a policeman had shot the python, a teacher in a nearby settlement died. Villagers saw his death as an indication that he owned the mamlambo. Tensions over money were the backdrop of most of the twenty-one cases that I recorded of individuals who were accused of keeping the mamlambo. Though by no means conspicuously wealthy, the accused were envious of wealthier residents and eager to be prosperous and to attain inuential positions. Alternatively, people could be accused of


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using the mamlambo to compensate for their absence of lovers, spouses, and dependants. Albert Nzianea thirty- ve-year old radio repairman, who lived alone and had never engaged in heterosexual relations, actually confessed that he kept a mamlambo. Albert told me that in the past a male school principal had sexually abused him and that nzonzo spirits also prevented him from marrying. In 1992 a Malawian diviner gave Albert a matchbox containing roots, which he said was a love potion. Albert soon realised that the roots aVected him in mysterious ways. His relations with other people deteriorated and he began to have the most horrible nightmares of snakes. One evening he dreamt that a white woman sat on his bed. He began to experience convulsions and his head knocked against her, but she did not say a word. A diviner told Albert that the roots were really a mamlambo and advised him to discard them. Albert complied, but observed that the broken roots remained green and he imagined that he heard a womans voice as he threw away the roots. In a mocking tone, she said, This man is throwing his wife [away]. Albert continues to be beset by fear: his nightmares persist and he is often feverish. Thus far all eVorts to trace the Malawian herbalist have ended in vain and youngsters have started to mock Albert about his madam. Yet by now, Albert said, he had grown used to suVering. Villagers contrasted the illicit sexual passion and the money the mamlambo was said to give to witches with the compassionate love and descendants given to men and women by fertile spouses. For example, Ben Ndlovu, a businessman and the owner of a soccer club, allegedly kept a mamlambo as a lover. Though it brought Ben great wealth and enabled his soccer team to win all their matches, Ben had no wife or children. Neighbours gossiped that Ben actually traded his semen with the snake for money. There were many similarities in gossip about bestiality and in accusations of the use of witchcraft to compensate sexually for the absence of a human lover. Like the practitioners of bestiality, keepers of the mamlambo were marginal persons. The sadness of Mandla Siboyes deprivations as portrayed in the opening vignette of this article resonates with the desperate loneliness of Albert Nziane, and to a lesser extent also in the experiences of persons who have money but no descendants or kin. Here the diVerence lies in the destructive capacity and danger that the mamlambo presents. Men who committed bestiality were only made to feel most unbearable shame. Once neighbours even demanded bridewealth from the parents of a teenager who had sex with their

Witchcraft and the Sexuality of Evil in the South African Lowveld


goat. Keepers of the mamlambo challenged the existing order, and could be dealt with more harshly and violently. iv) Homosexuality. In Impalahoek, as elsewhere in southern Africa, homosexuality was often denied and condemned as sekgowa (something from the whites). Though many villagers knew that the South African constitution promised equality on grounds of sexual preference, they were none the less extremely homophobic and went so far as to punish non-procreative sexuality. Like Sputla Nyathis kin, fathers swore that they would disown any son who had sex with other men, and they severely beat any child who masturbated. A sixty-year-old man even told me that in the past elders would show their utter contempt whenever an adult died without having produced progeny by inserting a burning log into the corpses anus or vagina. But through participating in the local networks of gossip, I soon learnt of several contexts in which villagers practised homosexuality. As time went by, my relations with informants became more open and honest, and some of my white gay friends visited me in the eld, I also learnt that peoples attitudes towards homosexuality were much more nuanced and complex than simple condemnation and denial (Epprecht 1998). One response was to remain silent when the homosexuality was close at hand, but to condemn the practice from afar. Another tendency was for informants to associate male homosexuality with sexual perversion in general, but to discuss lesbian sex as an aspect of witchcraft.17 Since the turn of the previous century male homosexuality was most prevalent in the mining compounds and in prisons (Moodie 1988, Achmat 1993). It was fairly common on the mines for Mozambican team leaders (bhas boys) and compound headmen (iinduna) to propose love to junior miners and even to take young men as wives. Their male wives came from all parts of southern Africa, slept with them in the compounds, cooked for them, and accompanied them to town. They wore dresses and make-up, were clean-shaven, drank wine rather than beer, and never took part in sport. In this way they secured the love and protection of well-paid senior miners, and could earn gifts of up to R500 each month. Many miners actually preferred male lovers to female prostitutes and township women. They described homosexuality as more convenient, romantic and safer. Men believed that sex with other miners did not weaken them, nor expose them to venereal diseases or AIDS. One male informant, who had engaged in homosexual intercourse on the mines, described it as a practical arrangement whereby


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he could attain sexual release without a woman. It is terrible to have sex with other men. But we men cannot help it. Mr. Penis commands us. In some instances male homosexuality was tolerated in Impalahoek, but hidden behind a veil of discretion. Villagers were extremely amused by Luxon Usinga, a young man who wore dresses and danced like a woman on public celebrations. Initially my informants told me that Luxon only did this as a joke. But I later learnt additional details about Luxons private life from his neighbours. The neighbours said that Luxon shared a house with another young man. The two men lived together as husband and wife, smoked marijuana, and openly hugged and kissed in the road. Luxons neighbours never confronted him about his curious love aVair. Informants also recalled how they had had anal intercourse and thigh sex with their fellow herd boys when they were young.18 Others said that at the boys initiation lodge an unmarried assistant of the initiation master often asked the boys to masturbate him whilst he washed at the river. Such behaviour was often excused with reference to the immaturity of youth. Our discussions about male homosexuality generated many unanswered questions about lesbian sex. Gays (1985) analysis of erotic relations between older women (called mommies) and their younger partners (babies) in Lesotho is still unique in the ethnographic literature of southern Africa. I heard no talk about these relationships. Peta Katz, who did eldwork and studied gender in a nearby village in Bushbuckridge, did not record a single instance in which a woman was pinpointed as having made love with another woman (personal communication: 2000). 19 In fact, the only references to lesbian sex that I heard about in the lowveld were in narratives of witchcraft. My eldwork assistant, Eliazaar Mohlala, brought the rst possible connection between lesbian sex and witchcraft to my attention. Eliazaar recalled that when he studied at a teachers college in Groblersdal during 1977, a naked woman once entered the dormitory room of another female student and stood with her legs astride the students face. Other women students claimed that the intruder had tried to bewitch their roommate and asked the matron to expel her. Eliazaar did not accept my suggestion that lesbianism might be involved:
No! I say the student was a witch! How on earth could someone from another room get onto someone elses bed in the night? She stood on the bed and pushed the poor woman who was asleep aside. I know there may be such things [lesbianism], but did people practice this in 1977? This was a very long time ago.

Witchcraft and the Sexuality of Evil in the South African Lowveld


Not long after Eliazaars comment to me, another male informant, who had just returned from visiting his relatives in the Sekhukhuneland district, reiterated the link between lesbian sex and witchcraft. His mother had told him that at the girls initiation lodge a thirteen-yearold girl had changed into the shapes of a duck and a white woman. In the latter shape she sucked the vaginas of several other initiates. The girl herself claimed that she was not aware of what she had done, and villagers believed that her mother had bewitched her to molest the other initiates. The association of lesbianism with witchcraft was also apparent in the accounts of women witches who changed themselves into the shape of the tokoloti to rape other women. Feita Mosoma was widely believed to keep a tokolot i in a trunk. She stayed alone with her grandson who had thus far been unable to nd a suitable wife. Several women had stayed at his home, but as soon as he left for work in Johannesburg the woman would desert him, complaining that Feita had sent a tokoloti to molest them. Some informants suggested that these women kept both a male and female tokoloti. Others believed that the tokolot i could change its sex at will. Yet they could not escape the inevitable conclusion of lesbian sex. Why, then, was male homosexuality acknowledged (though sometimes condemned) but not made the subject of witchcraft discourses and accusations, while lesbian sex was not acknowledged as existing in daily life, but fell within the parameters of witchcraft? Again, we can only grasp this distinction with reference to power. According to my informants all forms of homosexuality transgressed cultural ideals, but only lesbian sex perverted male domination. Like the Latin American hombre hombre (Lancaster 1991), men who took male wives were exemplars of masculinity. They were active sexual partners who subordinated other men sexually. Though anomalous, male wives do not threaten existing hierarchies. The extra income they received from their male lovers on the mines enabled them to be successful husbands and fathers at home (Moodie 1988). For my informants lesbian sex was not more repugnant than male homosexuality. (Men found the lesbian scenes on pornographic videos tapes erotic.) However, sexually assertive women denaturalised male domination, showing it as an arbitrary construct of culture rather than an immutable fact of nature. This is evident in the case of Betty Usinga, a witch who allegedly tied a horn around her waist to rape other women. Informants described Betty as a woman who behaves like a


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man. She installed herself as an Apostolic minister, and by herself built a church and several small shops. Though married, Betty had only one adopted daughter. (This, I was told, was because her tokoloti ate the foetuses of her children.) Betty argued with her brothers over the inheritance of cattle, chased her mother-in-law from her home, and even commanded her husband to make tea. By dening assertive women as witches, villagers policed the boundaries of gender and protected male dominance. v) Incest. Incest also featured in narratives about both sexual perversion and witchcraft. Villagers believed that their remote ancestors and white South Africans were the only people who found incest acceptable. The praise-poems about many of the earliest ancestors who came to live in Bushbuckridge refer to acts of brother-sister incest. Here incest is portrayed as an act of power that attested to the fertility of a lineage: through incest the lineages of founding ancestors procured their own descendants. In Impalahoek there was a common belief that white girls were required to have sex with her own fathers before they married. This act of incest was supposed have initiated young white women into the mysteries of sex, and made them very assertive. Many of my informants were surprised to learn from me that white South African people, too, disapproved of father-daughter incest. By all accounts there had been an upsurge in cases of incest since the 1990s, and as in the case of western countries (La Fontaine 1988, McKinnon 1995), villagers associated incest with masculine aggression and with the sexual violation and abuse of children. One of the most revolting and talked about cases of incest occurred in 1998, when Kgerihe Mapanga, a fty-year-old man, raped his granddaughter, Lucy. Bleeding from her vagina, Lucy ran to the neighbours screaming. Not knowing fully what had happened, the neighbours told Kgerihe that they wished to take Lucy to hospital by car. Kgerihe said that they could use his car and ran indoors to fetch his keys. But before he could return, the neighbours heard a loud gunshot. Kgerihe had committed suicide. School principals and teachers recollected several cases in which pupils of their schools had been the victims of incest. In one account a stepfather raped his two stepdaughters, and in another a young man raped his fourteen-year-old sister. In both cases the close kin of these children were too embarrassed to take any action. My informants were adamant that such shocking incidents of sexual perversion did not occur in the past. The incest that featured in witchcraft narratives diverged from this pattern. In witchcraft the perpetrators of incest were feeble and elderly

Witchcraft and the Sexuality of Evil in the South African Lowveld


male witches, who raped their fertile daughters and caused them to give birth to horribly deformed children. Dejected women witches too, had sexual intercourse with their wage-earning sons. This came to my attention in a story that one man told me of his close friend, Sipho Mashego. Sipho reportedly became impotent shortly after his marriage, and Sipho consulted a diviner, who told him:
At night your mother uses you for sex. Thats why youre so relaxed during the day. Thats why youre so weak when youre supposed to be with your wife. Your mother goes to your room in the form of a tokoloti. The tokoloti will eat you and because of this your wife will not get enough.

Sipho agreed. He was very worried about his impotence and wondered why he so often had wet dreams. Yet Sipho was far too embarrassed to confront his motheran elderly widow. Instead, he started building a six-roomed house to appease her. vi) Abortions. In Bushbuckridge, back-street abortions were one of the most serious threats to the health of young women. Statistics compiled by the medical superintendent of the closest hospital to Impalahoek provide one glimpse of the seriousness of this problem. For the period between 1 July and 31 October 1993, no fewer that 108 (9%) of a total of 1,088 discharge-diagnosis were for complications following abortion. Infanticide was a related problem. Occasionally young mothers left their unwanted babies in the bush, or threw them into rivers or down pit latrines. In the 1980s, abortions became an important local political issue during the anti-apartheid struggle. The Comradesyoung men associated with movements for national liberationdid not merely oppose political oppression. They also launched a concerted eVort to root out all abortions. In 1988 Comrades appointed a disciplinary committee to investigate the deaths of two schoolgirls who had had back-street abortions. In one case the abortionist was the girls own motheran unemployed widow who could not aV ord to support any additional grandchildren. The other girls boyfriend, who had already impregnated someone else, had forced her to abort. Comrades threatened the mother and boyfriend, and a herbalist had supplied them with a concoction made from bleach, laxatives and herbs, so that they would become victims of circumstances if they ever again attempted to abort a foetus. Unfortunately, the South African Choice of Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1996which gives women the right to free, safe, and legal abortionshas not alleviated the desperate plight of women who nd themselves unexpectedly pregnant. Doctors and nurses are legally entitled to refuse to perform abortions on grounds of conscience, and in


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Bushbuckridge health workers have regularly turned away young women who ask for assistance in terminating unwanted pregnancies. By 2000, only sixteen of the forty-nine hospitals in the Northern Province performed abortions. A widely publicised case was that of Enia Malele, who sought an abortion at the Mapulaneng hospital, but was turned away. Frank Ndlovu, a male nurse, agreed to assist Enia, but botched the operation in his room at the staV quarters. Enia died of severe loss of blood, and Frank was charged with killing her (Sunday Times, 18 June 2000). The representation of abortions in witchcraft narratives resembled daily life. Witches were commonly portrayed as interfering with and destroying physical reproduction. Women witches allegedly removed foetuses from their wombs before they were born, played with them, tested their abilities in witchcraft, and taught them witchcraft skills. In one story, local witches went to steal maize from the farms near Nelspruit. To move faster, they removed their foetuses and hid them in the veld. Upon their return the witches were in such a hurry that they did not reinsert their foetuses with great care. Some witches picked up their foetuses by the nose or ngers. Consequently their children were born with defective nostrils or hands. Others forgot their foetuses in the bush. These narratives resemble the monster stories in accounts about abortion in the United States (Tsing 1990). Motivated by envy, elderly witches caused fertile younger women to abort or to miscarry. One elderly woman, Sebongile Mohlala, who was one of the most notorious witches in Impalahoek, was reported to have been so envious when she heard that her next-door neighbours expected a child that she threw potions into their yard. The young wife became seriously ill, miscarried, and nearly died. In another neighbourhood, a witch-diviner conrmed peoples suspicions that a woman called Edna Ndaweni had bewitched the uterus of her uncooperative daughter-in-law to make her pregnant for seventeen months and then miscarry. Indeed, the association between abortions and witchcraft was so strong in local belief that any person who performed back-street abortions risked being accused of witchcraft. Witchcraft and abortions converged insofar as both transgressions were perceived as perverting power. In labour-exporting areas with very few employment opportunities for women, they achieved status through motherhood. From the perspective of villagers it did not matter whether abortions were performed voluntarily or were coerced: all abortions deprived women of children. Villagers also feared that abortions could impair the ability of women to bear further children, and render women childless. Hence abortions could amount to the complete renunciation of motherhood.

Witchcraft and the Sexuality of Evil in the South African Lowveld


Conclusions There is a constant danger that theoretical advances in anthropology may lead us to ignore past achievements of the discipline. Recent attempts, led by Geschiere (1997), to recognise the manner that witchcraft is embedded in broader political-economic processes, and the interplay of local contingencies and global forces in discourses of witchcraft, constitutes a genuine theoretical advance that oVers many fresh insights and exciting possibilities. It is no longer feasible to treat witchcraft simply as a residue survival of traditional worldview (Minnaar et al., 1992) nor as a mechanism for the maintenance of social order (Marwick 1965). But, at the same time, we cannot allow the modernity of witchcraft to become a pervasive meta-narrative that leads us to ignore the very legitimate focus of earlier ethnographic studies of witchcraft upon kinship, morality and micro-politics. The best perspective is an integrative one. In previous studies I have shown how witch beliefs acquired salience in the light of contemporary economic dilemmas, how national liberation movements became involved in witch-hunting, and how the South African state attempted to police witchcraft (Niehaus 2001). A focus upon political dynamics of witchcraft captures only certain aspects of this multifaceted phenomenon. Sexuality is also a crucial theme in witchcraft. The strained relations between spouses, aYnes and co-wives, and between diVerent households locked in disputes about pre-marital love aVairs, were the prime component in half the witchcraft attributions that I recorded. There were also many over-lapping meanings between witchcraft and sexuality. This was evident in the use of eating as a metaphor for both witchcraft and sex, in the nakedness of the witch, the enormous penis and huge breasts of the tokolot i, and in the transformation of the mamlambo into a white lover. An argument for the foregrounding of kinship, morality, and sexuality is not an argument for treating witchcraft as a mirror that reveals the culturally disallowed, distorts kinship and neighbourliness, and reverses moral standards (Crehan 1997: 187). In Impalahoek, as indeed elsewhere in South Africa, harmonious conjugal sexuality and supportive kinship are moral ideals rather than normative expectations. Sexual violence, incest, extra-marital aVairs, separations, non-procreative sexuality, and abortions have become all too familiar features of social life. In 1994 the South African Womens Bureau estimated that approximately one in every four women was abused by her partner, and 32,107 cases of rape were reported to the South African Police Services (Human Rights Watch/Africa 1995: 45, 51). In 1999 the magisterial court at Camperdown in KwaZulu-Natal dealt with about ve cases of child


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rape each day (Sunday Times, 4 April 1999). The media have also reported several shocking cases of South African men who have been arrested for raping infants (New York Times, 29 January 2002). Mens preference for sex with children allegedly lowered their chances of being infected by HIV. A survey of nine hundred school-going youth in the Northern Province showed that 18% lived without both biological parents and 45% lived without one biological parent (Stadler 1996). And in the rst six months of 2000 seventy men were arrested on charges of bestiality in the Northern Province after they had had sex with goats (Mail and Guardian, 4 October 2000). In Impalahoek discourses about witchcraft and sexuality can be treated more fruitfully as a resource in micro-political struggles in the domestic domain. Gossip, derogatory statements, and scandal-provoking stories about unacceptable sexual conduct sanctioned certain moral ideals. These open-ended narratives could be a prime site of resistance. Their mundane setting and apparently innocuous nature made them hard to stie. Ordinary people could use rumours and scandals to ridicule and humiliate the reputations of dominant persons who abused their rights to exercise power (Scott 1985). Their targets were young men who sexually abused goats, rapists, fathers who abused innocent children, abortionists, and miners who practised non-procreative sex indiscreetly. Allegations and accusations of witchcraft stood in a less ambiguous relation to domination. Residents of Impalahoek perceived the sexual practices of witches as perverting hierarchies of domination, rather than transgressing moral ideals. Accusations of witchcraft were a means whereby dominant persons dehumanised those who were subordinate to them. Feminist scholars who analyse witch-trials as an ongoing attempt by men to maintain their dominance over women capture this eVect (Garret 1979 and Hester 1992). However, in the lowveld accusations of witchcraft were a hallmark of intra-gender struggles. Insubordinate wives, obstinate daughters-in-law, and elderly infertile women, as well as vulnerable men, fell victim to these accusations. In narratives, the dangerous power and sexual virility of witches was presented as being derived from spaces external to the village such as the bush or the places of whites. Herbal substances, the beast-like sexuality of the tokolot i, remote-controlled technologies, sexually assertive white women, and the assumed incest of whites, are central tropes for discussing the sexuality of evil.

Witchcraft and the Sexuality of Evil in the South African Lowveld



1. I thank my eld assistants Eliazaar Mohlala and Kally Shokane, my colleagues Peta Katz, Jennifer Badstuebner, Jim Kiernan, Robert Thornton, and the two anonymous readers of Journal of Religion in Africa for their help. Unless otherwise stated, all local expressions are in Northern Sotho. I use pseudonyms throughout the paper to protect the identity of my informants. 2. There were two lines of black supervision on the mines. The rst dealt with domestic life on the compound and was headed by a white compound manager. The black oY cials were called iinduna, police boys and isibonda. The second line of black supervision operated underground. Here the senior black worker was the bhas boy (now called team leader) who supervised the work team (see Moodie 1988). 3. See J. and J.L. ComaroV 1993, Geschiere 1997, Shaw 1997, Ashforth 1998, Ciekawy and Geschiere 1998, Mavhungu 2000, and Niehaus 2001. 4. See De Wet (1995) for an insightful and comprehensive analysis of agricultural betterment schemes in South Africa. 5. In May 1986, the Comrades killed at least thirty-six suspected witches in Bushbuckridge (SAIRR 1988: 907). 6. In Northern Sotho an important distinction is made between puo (reign, govern, dominate) and maatla (power and strength). Whereas the former notion approximates Webers notion of domination, the latter refers to an immanent force or capacity to transform the world. By being subordinate, but extremely powerful, witches subvert the usual association of domination and power. 7. Stadler (1994) shows that the value of bridewealth varied according to the brides educational qualications. He recorded details of twenty-six marriages that took place in another village of Bushbuckridge between 1980 and 1990. The amounts of bridewealth varied from as little as R120 (12), for a bride with no educational qualications, to as much as R12,000 (1200), for a bride with a nursing diploma. The average amount of bridewealth demanded was R1,592 (159). Only ve of the twenty-six men who married in the 1980s paid all their bridewealth in one instalment. 8. My denition of bonyati draws on Spiegels (1991) work on Lesotho. Yet there appears to be a slightly diVerent conception. In Lesotho, bonyati was understood to denote a relationship between already married persons (p. 150). The use of the term by my informants also included relationships in which only one partner was already married. Men engaged in bonyat i to full their desire for a variety of diVerent sexual partners: women were more inclined to do so for economic reasons. 9. The actual rates of polygyny may well be higher. Some men who had married second wives while they worked in urban areas might have concealed this during my interviews with them. 10. During boys collective initiation, the senior wifes sons walked in front of their half-brothers. In agricultural work the senior wifes daughters-in-law were the rst to sow, harvest, and taste the rst crops. 11. The puV adder (Bitis arietans) is a slow moving, short and stubby snake with a triangular head distinct from the rest of the body. 12. For a comparative case elsewhere, see Torens (1994: 18-39) discussion of the contrast between familial love (loloma) and sexual desire (dodomo ) in Fiji. 13. These descriptions of the lowveld tokoloti diVered considerably from that of the well-known Cape Nguni thikoloshenearly always described as a diminutive, hairy man, who has only one buttock, carries his large penis over his shoulder, is mischievous and has sexual intercourse with women. See Soga (1931: 185-186), Wilson (1951) and Hammond-Tooke (1974). 14. The word mshoshaphanzi derives from the Zulu word mshesha phanzi (quick-down). It denotes underhand actions such as bribery and fraud.


Isak Niehaus

15. Like the tokoloti, the mamlambo is not indigenous to the lowveld. Descriptions of the Cape Nguni umamlambo (mother of the river in Xhosa) closely resemble the accounts of my informants. See Soga (1931: 193), Wilson (1951) and Hammond-Tooke (1974). 16. Stories of the mamlambo resemble those of Satanic riches in Ghanaian pentecostal churches. In the popular Ghanaian narratives human beings and human fertility are oVered to Satan and snakes in exchange for money. Meyer (1995) argues that these entail both a critique of the capitalist economy in the name of the pre-capitalist ideal of mutual family assistance and an opportunity to fantasise about things which people cannot aVord but nevertheless desire. 17. See Gevisser and Cameron (1994), and Donham (1998) for informative discussions of the politics and practice of gay and lesbian sexualities in South Africa. 18. Thigh sex is called matanyola in Northern Sotho, metsha in Xhosa and hlobongo in Zulu. In this form of erotic activity the husband inserts his penis between the boys thighs (see Moodie 1988: 231). 19. Peta Katz reports that the most explicit lesbian erotic activity took place in womens initiation, when older women used maize cobs to de ower young initiates in a most masculine way (personal communication: 2000).

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