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Witchcraft, Violence, and Democracy in South Africa

How does democracy fare when the people governed insist they live in a world with witches? If the government of a people afflicted by witchcraft refuses to punish witches, how does it avoid becoming alienated from the perceived needs of its people or, worse, seen as being in league with witches? In Soweto, South Africa, the constant threat of violent crime, the increase in black socio-economic inequality, the AIDS pandemic, and a widespread fear of witchcraft have converged to create a pervasive sense of insecurity among citizens and a unique public policy problem for government.

In Witchcraft, Violence, and Democracy in South Africa, Adam Ashforth examines how people in Soweto and other parts of post-apartheid South Africa manage their fear of ’evil forces’ such as witchcraft. Ashforth examines the dynamics of insecurity in the everyday life of Soweto at the turn of the twenty-first century. He develops a new framework for understanding occult violence as a form of spiritual insecurity and documents new patterns of interpretation attributing agency to evil forces. Finally, he analyzes the response of post-apartheid governments to issues of spiritual insecurity and suggests how these matters pose severe long-term challenges to the legitimacy of the democratic state.

376 pages | 8 halftones, 1 map | 6 x 9 | © 2005

African Studies

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

History: African History

Political Science: Comparative Politics

Table of Contents

A Note on Nomenclature
Part One / Soweto
1. Spiritual Insecurity and Political Power
2. Dimensions of Insecurity in Contemporary Soweto
3. On Living in a World with Witches
4. Freedom, Democracy, and Witchcraft: Soweto in the 1990s
5. On Believing, and Not Believing, in Witchcraft
Part Two / Sources of Spiritual Insecurity
6. Poison, Medicine, and the Power of Secret Knowledge
7. Death, Pollution, and the Dangers of Dirt
8. A Brief History of the Spirit World
9. Invisible Beings in Everyday Life
10. Vulnerabilities of the Soul
Part Three / Spiritual Insecurity and the State
11. Witchcraft, Violence, and Justice
12. Democratic Statecraft in a World of Witches
Appendix 1: The Literature on Soweto—a Brief Excursus
Appendix 2: The Thohoyandou Declaration on Ending Witchcraft Violence, Issued by the Commission on Gender Equality
Selected Bibliography


African Politics Conference Group/London School of Economics and Political Science: Best Book on African Politics

African Studies Association: Melville J. Herskovits Award

Association of Global South Studies: Toyin Falola Africa Book Award

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