This is the third weekend that churches, mosques and synagogues, and any other place of organised worship, will have been able to operate but with the steady surge in Coronavirus infections, it will probably be only the profits (sic) opening their doors.
Not even the South African Satanic Church, registered mere weeks before the lockdown, will dare to hold its first public service. Just exactly how they will eventually physically celebrate their beliefs and with what rituals and texts is still highly unknown – to protect the identities of its adherents, who might otherwise be victimised in polite South African society.
Whatever your views on their beliefs founders Adri Norton and Riaan Swiegelaar, who doubles up as the presiding reverend, have proved themselves incredible marketers – two people making headlines in a time of an uncommon brutal spate of gender-based violence and an entire global pandemic, both of which are currently ripping through our country.
News about their church has been met with the usual gnashing of teeth and rending of clothes and hair by Christian fundamentalists, who they can’t do much because freedom of belief is protected by our Constitution. The disquiet is understandable: satanism has its claws deep in the South African psyche. In the 1970s and 1980s, anything that couldn’t be conveniently be grouped under swart gevaar or the red peril, became crowbarred into the total onslaught as satanism; whether it was men wearing ear rings to reading (and believing) your horoscope or playing your records (especially heavy metal) backwards.
The South African police even set up an occult crimes unit under the unforgettable Colonel Kobus “Donker” Jonker, based in Port Elizabeth which the knowledgeable had deemed the epicentre of the dark arts, with East London’s Gonubie and Bloemfontein being other reported hotspots while covens operated under the full moon high above the Bloukrans river in the hollows of the suspension bridge. Whether this was true or not, it certainly provided reams of copy for the Sunday newspapers.
This country though has always been a place where real life often outstrips even the most fevered fantasy – from priests playing prima nocte with vulnerable boys to pastors peppering their congregants with Doom. We’ve had staged public resurrections (where the actor actually died later), we’ve even had communions in casinos and sacrament in shebeens. About the only thing we haven’t had is burnt offerings and live sacrifice. Apparently the satanic church isn’t about to this gap – despite widespread expectation.
But in terms of man’s inhumanity to man, which was exactly what the gospels rail against, whatever sermons this new online church will be preparing for its 500 Facebook faithful, it will find the benchmark set fairly high this week.
After all, how do you top the sheer depravity and cruelty of ripping down a shack in the middle of winter while someone is trying to bath inside and then beating the terrified naked man in full view of the cameras when he tries to stop them? Perhaps the only way is to gently rehome two wild animals the same day.
Donker Jonker was terrified we’d worship goats. He never imagined it would be the rhino.
Originally published on 4 June 2020 in the Saturday Star.