Apartheid s demons: Satanism and moral panic in South Africa

The excavation of alternate histories that contradict or complexify the master narrative is a crucial step in the process of decolonization. This paper traces one such story, but of colonizer rather than of colonized, examining some of the symptoms and effects of decolonization on the culture and national mythologies of white South Africans through the prism of an uncanny event that characterized the late apartheid period. Between 1984 and 1992, white media, schools and public institutions were swept up in a Satanism scare. This was a pervasive moral panic that manifested itself everywhere, from government pronouncements to popular magazines and theological tracts, including lurid claims of widespread murder, sexual abuse and other criminal and anti-social behavior. Despite its reach, no evidence of a Satanist conspiracy was ever uncovered and the scare soon slipped entirely from popular memory. This particularized occult moment is thus marked as specifically symptomatic of the moment of late apartheid. Its modalities provide for a reading of questions of race, national identity and historiography, as well as illustrating how the mythic figure of the Satanist became an overdetermined signifier of some of the various phantasmic threats to white South African hegemony: communists, liberals, unruly youth.

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