Financial Times: Is Satan Out There in South Africa?

The Financial Times carries a report by Sarah Duguid on supposed Satanism in South Africa. As one would expect, Colonel Kobus Jonker and the Occult Related Crime Unit (ORCU) of the South African police loom large, although the reporter also spends time talking to sceptical academics. Here’s the profile of Jonker:

In 1981 Colonel Kobus Jonker joined a charismatic church and became a born-again Christian. At the time, he was a respected senior detective with the South African police.

This conversion had rather remarkable effects on his career:

A few months after his conversion, he investigated the case of a woman who was killed when she walked in front of a car late one night…It turned out that she was a witch…He interviewed a woman whose voice turned into a growl deeper than anything he had heard before…He describes watching as a pentagram inexplicably appeared in blood on a suspect’s arm. He tells how he thwarted a female assassin working for a Satanic coven who turned up at his office clutching a pistol inside her handbag. She left still clutching the gun, her hand seemingly paralysed by his prayers.

Jonker’s bosses remained steadfastly cynical; they rolled their eyes at his stories. But when he raided a house in 1991 and found a Bible bound in chains, the walls smeared with blood and a Chinese woman’s head in a cupboard, his commanding officers were finally persuaded to start the Occult Related Crime Unit (ORCU), with Colonel Jonker at its helm. Last year, the unit claims, it made 70 successful prosecutions under the 1957 Witchcraft Suppression Act.

Sceptics are not allowed to join the unit. Says Jonker (now retired):

“The ordinary guy cannot investigate occult crimes. There are things you see and experiences you have as a result of the supernatural. You must be strong in faith to be in the occult unit…

Further details are available on the Unit’s website, which is part of the official South African Police Service web presence and bears a “gov.za” address:

“I believe the devil exists because I have seen things happen. I have seen a woman being attacked right in my presence by a demonic being, cuts just appearing on her arms and the triple sixes also manifesting on her arm while I was standing beside her. The two policemen who were there with me ran off when they saw that. I ran to the car to fetch my camera because I know my colleagues and ordinary people find it difficult to believe these things.”

Jonker has been on British TV a couple of times over the past few years. In 2000 he was profiled by the Channel 4 documentary series Witness. A rather sceptical review accords with my memories of that programme. The camera crew followed Jonker around for a bit, with underwhelming results:

A car hit-and-run victim was found with ‘Jesus Christ’ tattooed on her feet . Jonkers concludes that she was a Satanist; because ‘this was the woman’s way of trampling on Christ’s name’.  The intellectual rigor in Jonkers’ cases is reminiscent of a mediaeval witch-hunter. ‘A Cat disappears and ‘strange smells’ eminate from a room used by a suspect – Jonker deduces that she was therefore ‘enganged in some satanic practice.’ Jonker has a ‘museum’ of Satanic artefacts which include ‘human fat candles ‘(?) and , wait for it, Heavy Metal Posters’ (!). Jonker’s believes in all the crud about so-called backward-masking on pop-music. He says he ‘loved Satanists as god would wish him to’ and found plenty to put under the microscope. Anyone who reads Tarot Cards, frequents Health Shops or Listens to Heavy Metal Music is immediately suspect in his religious crusade against Satanism.  A woman who resents having her book on Astral Projection confiscated is immediately earmarked as a Satanist murderess.  One of his prime witnesses is a dysfunctional self-imolating woman who was brought up in a strict pentecostal family. She relates in graphic detail ten years of detailed abuse at the hands of a ‘satanic circle’ she says she joined when she was 15. She knows the chief satanists name but is prevented by some magical force from speaking it (a typical victim impostor confabulation) so her story cannot be checked. Jonker did not think to ask her to write it down instead. Jonkers appears enthusiastically clued in to everything except what is actually going on.

Pictures of Jonker’s collection are available here. The FT reporter has similar experiences in the company of Inspector Dievald Grobbler and police reservist F.H. Havinger at a Christian counselling centre:

…we are told that a coven has contacted one of its estranged members by spirit message and threatened to kill a baby if she doesn’t return. We climb into the car to find the coven. The police map out a radius where the ritual might be taking place. With headlights switched off, we comb a section of Johannesburg famous for its car hijackings. The area looks like a cheap film set: prostitutes blow kisses as we drive by, a man shuffles home from a late-night bar, dogs bark, neon lights flash. Eventually an erratic driver falls under suspicion and the officers pull him over. It turns out that he is drunk and prowling around looking for a prostitute. This is not a matter for the occult unit, so he avoids arrest.

Meanwhile, another call has come through. A survivor has been possessed by a demon and the volunteers at the centre have been unable to snap her out of it. We rush back, blue police light flashing.

Who cares about some drunk driver killing someone when Satanists are at work via “spirit message”? Despite the lack of any actual evidence for the many lurid stories told to her, Duguid gushes that

Jonker’s cool-headed, intelligent approach to his work led me, a semi-sceptic, to agree that there must be something “out there”

Duguid tries to convince us of this by contrasting Jonker with someone else, South Africa’s self-styled “top exorcist” James Lottering. Lottering, who resigned from the ORCU in 1997, was a member of the “notorious security police” under apartheid, and Duguid suggests that his views are “constructed by a mind that was seeking self-justification for a dislike of non-Christians and non-whites”. She attends Lottering as he performs an exorcism on someone who unwittingly drank a demon that a Muslim had put in her tea. Duguid also notes that Lottering attends the Word of Faith Church in Port Elizabeth. The church website is currently under construction, but I think we can assume a link with the wider Word of Faith Prosperity Gospel movement led for many years in South Africa by Ray McCauley. McCauley is a former body-builder and is a very popular televangelist, and his support for the  government in the 1980s is remembered by only a few ( See The New Crusaders by Paul Gifford).

The second time Jonker appeared on British TV was in relation to the mutilated body of a Nigerian child, found by the Thames in 2001. Given that Nigeria is only 3000 miles away from South Africa, the Afrikaner Jonker was clearly qualified to provide some expert opinion.

(FT article brought to my attention by The Anomalist)

3 Responses

  1. […] Network and Support (RAINS), where he shared a platform with Kobus Jonker. Jonker, whom I’ve discussed before on this blog, used to run an “Occult-Related Crime Unit” in the South African police […]

  2. […] meanwhile, is a detective with the Occult Related Crimes unit, which has featured on this blog previously; its founder, Kobus Jonker, insisted that only police officers who shared his religious beliefs […]

  3. Hey does anyone know the name of the documentary that Kobus Jonker appeared in regarding satanism in SA? I was around 12 or 13 at the time it was filmed so it was in the late nineties. It interviewed a Satanist Woman who claimed to be “The regional bride of satan” She did not want to show her face on camera but was wearing a dark hooded cloak and only her lips were visable as she spoke.

    I believe her satanic name was “baba yaga” …. this is about 13 or 14 years ago but I will never forget this documentary.

    If anyone knows the name please let me know, I’d like to re-watch it again.

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