Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya speaks to Johannesburg priest and exorcist, Fr Godwin Garuba, to understand the Catholic view on the occult and exorcisms in the light Sandile Mantsoe's conviction last week for murdering his girlfriend Karabo Mokoena. Why did he kill her? This is the unanswered question in the case. Initially, Mantsoe claimed that it was a blood ritual killing. This needs further attention and exploration and raises the issue of the occult in South Africa.
As Sandile Mantsoe started his 32 year jail sentence for the murder of his girlfriend Karabo Mokoena, a question that lingers unanswered by the court is why he did what he did.
According to the police, Mantsoe confessed to killing Mokoena as part of a blood ritual necessary to boost his business. This claim, which Mantsoe later denied making, highlights what appears to be the growing place of the occult in our society.
Police constable, Helen Mahwete, testified in court that Mantsoe told her how Mokoena stabbed herself in the neck as part of a ritual to separate the couple.
She said Mantsoe told her that he and Mokoena had been joined through a similar ritual by someone called ‘Master’. The exercise was apparently aimed at boosting his forex business.
“I remember him also informing me that Karabo had stabbed herself in the neck [and] he took her blood, mixed it together with his, so he could take it to Master for the separation ritual. He was supposed to take the blood to Master after 14 days, but couldn’t get it to him in time,” she said.
The defence asked Mahwete if she knew where the blood ritual had taken place. She told him that Mantsoe had told her that the “blood was in his apartment” and was ready to be “taken to the master for the separation ritual.” She did not know where exactly the blood was although she did ask Mantsoe about it.
For many, including clergy and religious, the idea of blood pacts and devil worship are too preposterous and given little consideration. For others, it is a reality that the church must face.
“I know from personal experience that things happen. I also know of priests who don’t believe [in matters related to evil spirits and their influence on people]. I guess for them it is a difficult terrain. It is much easier to refer a person to a psychologist or a psychiatrist,” says Fr Godwin Garuba, a recently confirmed exorcist for the Catholic Archdiocese of Johannesburg.
“The evil one and evil spirits exist.” He points out that Jesus himself healed many who were possessed by evil spirits. “If you read Matthew 10:1, he summoned his twelve disciples and gave them the authority over unclean spirits with power to drive them out and to cure all kinds of disease and kinds of illness. This tells us that this is not just a problem of our times.”
While he feels that the church is a little slow in responding to what seems to be an increase in the phenomenon of the occult, Fr Garuba does not think this worrisome.
“Typical of the church, she is not in a hurry to draw conclusions. This is not a bad thing because then she does not need to conclude twice”.
“Where I work I know of many cases of children who have been possessed or manipulated by demonic spirits. Besides substance abuse, the demonic spirit is one of the many challenges we face,” says Fr Garuba.
“I suppose it is one of the evil one’s machinations to make people think that he does not exist even though we see evil happen. It is like seeing things going missing in your home but continuing to insist that you do not have a thief in the house.”
He warns of focussing too much on negative spirits and in so doing failing to develop one’s faith.
“I always encourage people to concentrate on the power of God; to build their relationship with God because that is the only way you can fear no foe. People must not live in fear. I don’t know how many times Jesus himself tells us ‘do not be afraid’. We have people who are afraid of their own shadows.”
Fr Garuba says this is important. “Before we blame the devil we must eliminate every other option whether psychological or medical. Sometimes it is our own carelessness and nothing to do with the evil one,” he says.
“We must pray for the spirit of discernment to recognise when it is the evil one at work”.
Despite doubts inside and outside, some quarters of the church, in matters relating to forces of darkness continue to get serious attention.
British news platform, The Telegraph, reported in April that a Vatican conference for exorcist priests had heard that the demand for exorcisms was booming. This was allegedly a result of the decline in Christian faith and the fact the Internet provides easy access to black magic, the occult and Satanism.
The conference was attended by over 250 priests, theologians, psychologists and criminologists from 51 countries.
According to the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, in Catholic theology magic is defined as “the art of performing actions beyond the power of man with the aid of powers other than the Divine.” Any attempt at it is condemned and is a grievous sin against the virtue of religion, because all magical performances, if undertaken seriously, are based on the expectation of interference by demons or lost souls.
Even if undertaken out of curiosity the performance of a magical ceremony is sinful as it either shows a lack of faith or is a vain superstition. The Catholic Church admits in principle the possibility of interference in the course of nature by spirits other than God, whether good or evil, but never without God's permission.