The controversial new American drama series Lucifer, broadcasting on M-Net, has drawn a barrage of complaints from South African viewers who claim the show “promotes Satanism”. But this is not the first time the public has been up in arms about the occult.

The Show

What if Satan left the underworld, deciding to kick back and relax on Earth? FOX brings this narrative to life, depicting the hellish overload as a charming, if womanising, man. The story includes a lot of sexual innuendo, gang violence and bad language.

People are up in arms taking to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA). So far, 89 complaints have already been lodged. DSTV and M-Net viewers are threatening to cancel their subscriptions, stating that Lucifer “promotes Satanism”, gives a “false picture to our youth” and “glorifies Lucifer and sells lies to the public by making Lucifer look human and caring”.


Widespread moral panic surrounding Satanism began in the 1980s in South Africa with the introduction of Dungeons and Dragons, a roleplaying board game that received heavy flack due to its perceived promotion of pornography, witchcraft and satanism. This sparked worldwide panic and moral outrage, particularly strong in South Africa. The country even formed the “Anti-Occult Unit” in the SAPS that specialised in clamping down on Satanism.

In his 1997 PhD thesis, Psychologist Gavin Ivey also attributes the mass interest with Satanism in South Africa to an increase in Christian fundamentalism, together with a perceived Satanic threat and the strict moral code of the Calvinistic church.

In 2008, the national Department of Education released a schooling code of conduct, which explicitly states that Satanism religion is associated with criminal activity. This is possibly attributable to the media, which has continuously fuelled “Satanic panic” by framing entire stores as Satanic based on little information:

  • In 2013, a schoolgirl was allegedly stabbed by a girl from another school. Before she died, she told her mother that she was stabbed “because she hung out with Satanists”. Media jumped on the keyword of “Satanism” and published the story as evidence of widespread Satanism in schools.
  • In 2008, Morne Harmse went on a rampage, killing Jacques Pretorius and injuring others while wearing a mask resembling that of the lead singer of metal band Slipknot. Harmse said that Satan made him do it. The Satanic motive was dismissed as simplistic by SAPS psychologist Gerard Labuschagne. However, the media reported otherwise.
  • In 2011, Kirsty Theologo died and a 14-year-old girl was injured after being doused with petrol and set alight. Media describes the event as a Satanic ritual.

In 2012, a couple South Africans got together to try and ban a Lady Gaga concert, citing that the performer was “a self-confessed satanist”. The SA Council of Churches also weighed in, informing the Department of Arts and Culture that Gaga’s performances in South Africa would lead to a degeneration of the youth’s moral values.

Inside the Anti-Occult unit

The establishment of an anti-occult unit in 1992 was the brainchild of Kobus Jonker. Jonker, a born-again Christian and a police officer who earned the names”Donker Jonker”, “The Hound of God” and “God’s Detective”, began taking an interest in the occult after supposedly witnessing a Satanic ritual. The unit was described as the “world’s only ‘ritual murder’ task force”. Anthropologist Annika Teppo explained that the occult unit’s creation was linked with powerful conservative Christian forces within the then-dominant white community in the last years of apartheid.

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Kobus Jonker doesn’t serve in the anti-occult unit anymore due to a heart attack in 2000. However, according to Jonker, when he was serving in the 1990s, he was investigating upward of 250 occult-related cases a year. At the time, Jonker believed that there were thousands of active Satanists in South Africa. Apparently he would often receive death threats and severed baboon hands in the mail.

The anti-occult unit was disbanded in 2006 and its web page removed, but by using an internet archive website you can still view the strange guidelines for a occult investigation here. These are just some of the many “warning signs” for parents on the site:

  • Child greets with a left-hand horn signal. Wears only silver jewellery , not gold jewellery as gold is considered a Christian metal.
  • Child is fearful of things that bring happiness to other people like watching a beautiful sunset. He/she is openly hateful of Christians who are happy.
  • Child has punctures from needles used to drain blood for consumption. Look out for marks on left side of body.
  • Child has an interest in computer. (History settings on the Internet browser will probably be cancelled to wipe evidence of visited sites. There will also be passwords on the computer and download folders)
  • Draping hair across the left eye.
  • Child’s fingernails are painted black. The left-hand fingernails are longer than the right-hand fingernails. (The left side of body represents evil, as Jesus sits at the right-hand side of God.)
  • Child is sleepy and hazy.

Where does the fault lie?

The same white conservatism that birthed apartheid birthed the panic surrounding Satanism and we can still see the effect that it has had on media and the population. The 2001 census(the 2015 census did not include religion) states that 79.8% of South Africans are part of the Christian church.

A need for an occult unit?

There is also a strong belief in witchcraft among many African cultures. It is estimated that 1 in five South Africans have a first-hand experience with muti. Does this provide a strong enough argument for the need of an anti-occult unit?

In 2012, reports surfaced that a new, less hyped occult unit would be established, focusing on preventing witch hunts and ritual-related crimes. Muti-related crimes do require a specialised approach, however you could question whether it need be embedded in spirituality and the supernatural as Jonker’s original group was.

South Africa is still slowly recovering from the conservative hangover induced by the Calvinistic moral indoctrination of the apartheid era. And South Africans continue to be stuck in a loop of moral panic, fuelled by sensational media reporting. But with a more analytical approach taken by the media and a realistic SAPS occult unit, we may not be so quick to get fired up over Satan.

Originally published on Dont Party

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