JOHANNESBURG – Hundreds of learners in a school hall chanted “I am not a vampire!” on Friday in Dobsonville, Soweto.

They were responding to a call from the director of a Child Protection Week presentation at Forté High School. At least four Soweto schools participated in the presentation on Friday, 6 June 2014.

Advocate Praise Kambula warned teenage learners that books about voodoo and sorcery “will contaminate your spirit.” She then asked, “Can we shout, ‘I am not a vampire’?”

“I am not a vampire!” chanted the audience.

Later Kambula told the learners, “It’s dangerous in the spiritual world.”

According to a faith leader who counsels high school learners, Occultism is like an insect that slowly ensnares its prey in a web.

“These harmful religious practices are like a spider,” said Prophet Favour Stevens. “They can come to you in your dreams, they can come to you physically.”

Stevens counselled learners at George Khoza Secondary School after Thandeka Moganetsi (15) and Chwayita Rathazayo (16) were found dead in a Dobsonville field in February. They were dressed in school uniforms, and had cuts on their hands and necks. Three black candles and two new razor blades were found at the scene.

She linked learners’ involvement in harmful religious practice with dropping out, substance abuse, and mental illness.

Stevens said youths performed rituals including drawing symbols on classroom walls, building alters on school premises, and drinking the blood of humans and animals.

They “actually have to break those strings” spun by the “spider” of harmful religious practice, added Stevens. She presented an “initiation book” illustrated by learners who, she says, were involved in harmful religious practice. “This book is full of spirits.”

Present at the event were representatives from the Gauteng Departments of Basic Education, Social Development, Health, the South African Police Service, the National Prosecuting Authority, and faith-based organisations. 

An official from the Department of Social Development in Gauteng identified learners from broken homes as vulnerable to harmful religious practice. “If you come from broken homes, come to us, there are social workers,” she said.

A number of other speakers echoed this view, saying learners living in difficult circumstances turned to harmful religious practice in search of money and “powers” for help.

SAPS Lieutenant Colonel Komana from the investigative unit told learners, “If that belief system leads you to committing a crime, detectives will be after you.”

Advocate Andrew Chauke, Director of Public Prosections (South Gauteng) warned learners that crimes committed in the name of religion were not exempt from prosecution. “You are going to meet me in the court, and I am going to prosecute you for Satanism,” he said.

Additional reporting by Bianca Bothma.