From Witchcraft to Satanism: Changing fantasies and new experiences in the South African Lowveld

Danford Room 2nd floor Arts Building (R16 on the campus map)
Wednesday 10 October 2018 (16:30-18:30)

Speaker: Isak Niehaus, Brunel University

Part of the Africa Talks Seminar Series Autumn 2018.

Talks are held in the Danford Room, 2nd floor, Arts Building (R16 on the campus map). 
All welcome. 

  • Full seminar programme


Discourses about witchcraft have a long history in Bushbuckridge, South Africa, and have constantly been reconfigured in new situations of life. Yet, over the past decade, these discourses have retreated from public spaces, to be confined to the domestic domain. Instead, discourses about Satanism have come to grip the public imagination. By 2010 young women  confessed to their participation in Satanic covens during Pentecostal church services, in high schools assemblies, and even at political meetings. Drawing on the results of ongoing  multi-temporal fieldwork, I explore in this article deeper reasons for this change. I analyse witchcraft and Satanism as ‘collective fantasies’ that play out novel ideas in new situations. Satanism has enabled villagers to  engage imaginatively and emotionally, with changing situations of life marked by the influx of foreigners, rampant consumerism, and the erosion of kinship. These fantasies also have an experiential dimension and are associated with the embodiment of qualities from outside the self, and with confessional narratives that would not have been possible in the case of witchcraft.     

Speaker biography

Isak Niehaus currently teaches anthropology at Brunel University London. He studied at the Universities of Cape Town and the Witwatersrand in South Africa and has done extensive research on the topics of witchcraft, sexuality, and politics in South African rural areas. Niehaus' most recent monograph is  AIDS in the Shadow of Biomedicine (Zed Press, 2018).