Comrades, witches and the state: The case of the Brooklyn Youth Organisation

Ritchken, Edwin
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On the 21 April 1986, in the Mapulaneng district of Lebowa, the Brooklyn Youth Organisation (BYO) was formed at a public meeting held on the local soccer field. Two leaders and a disciplinary committee (DC) were elected. Each member paid twenty cents to buy sjamboks for the leaders and the DC. The BYO dedicated itself to eradicating what it perceived to be social evil from society. It formed itself into squads to patrol the area day and night. There were problems with criminal gangs robbing and assaulting people at night. There were also problems with Taxi drivers overcharging people late at night. The squads escorted people from taxis to their homes. They prohibited the use of knives in shebeen brawls. The BYO prevented workers from going to work on an open-backed lorry provided by a nearby wood mill. Such transport had proved itself to be extremely dangerous. Proper busses were soon supplied by the mill. The BYO also organised park building programmes so that "everybody should be proud of their location". On May 1 the BYO organised the first total stayaway in Brooklyn's history. They went on to organise a consumer boycott of a nearby Checkers as "the money paid to Checkers was being used to fund the South African Defence Force." These activities were not perceived altruistically by all people living in Brooklyn. Hundreds of old people fled into the mountains at night and there were complaints of people singing threatening songs late at night....This paper will attempt to understand the specificity of popular mobilisation and organisation in the Brooklyn location of Mapulaneng. While this will necessarily entail a study of the witch accusations, to reduce mobilisation and organisation in Brooklyn to witch accusations would obscure more than it would reveal. The first section of this paper will offer a brief discussion of previous literature on anti-witchcraft movements and will derive an approach to be followed in this paper. The second section will attempt to contextualise the status of witch accusations as a belief and as a political strategy, by outlining the process of mobilisation that constituted the BYO. This section will offer a broad history of the political culture that has been generated in Mapulaneng. An attempt will be made to show how this historical process has shaped organisation throughout Mapulaneng. It is through understanding the relationship of the BYO against a broader political environment that we can begin to unpack the ambiguous nature of the BYO. The final section will then offer an analysis of the actual witchcraft accusation and event.
African Studies Seminar series. Paper presented September 1987
Youth, Black. South Africa. Lebowa , Witchcraft. South Africa. Lebowa , Government, Resistance to. South Africa. Lebowa