Rethinking the Anthropologies of Witchcraft in South Africa

By Theodore Petrus.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Since the pioneering studies of Evans-Pritchard among the Azande of the Sudan, the anthropological study of African witchcraft had become what Niehaus (2001) referred to as ‘a staple of anthropological research’. In the South African context, however, while witchcraft was a part of the conventional ethnographic studies of various African groups during the colonial era, in the postcolonial context witchcraft studies have to a large extent faded into the background. This is also a point echoed by Niehaus. This paper presents an argument for the rethinking of the anthropologies of witchcraft in postcolonial South Africa. Specifically, the paper focuses on the relevance of earlier conventional studies of African witchcraft as well as some of the few postcolonial studies on witchcraft. In addition, the paper suggests how these studies, representing an anthropology of witchcraft, could be combined with a new anthropology of witchcraft, that is one focusing on witchcraft-related crime. The paper is based on fieldwork data gathered in the Pondoland area of the province of the Eastern Cape, South Africa.

Keywords: Witchcraft, Anthropologies of Witchcraft, Witchcraft-Related Crime, Pondoland

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp.89-98. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.174MB).

Dr. Theodore Petrus

Lecturer in Anthropology, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa

I have been a lecturer at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) for the past six years. I obtained the BA and BA Honours (Anthropology) qualifications at the university. In 2003 I obtained the MA in Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London. I am currently pursuing a doctoral qualification in Anthropology at the NMMU, while teaching undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Anthropology. Research interests include African witchcraft; witchcraft-related crime; ethnicity and racial studies, specifically in the South African context and with specific reference to the Coloured communities.


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