Accepted Papers:

The Witches Have Surveillance Cameras  

Author:

Jennifer Badstuebner (ANU)

Paper Short Abstract:

Surveillance cameras intended to bring a law and order presence into Cape Town quickly gained a reputation as being infested by witches. Witchcraft transformed the technologies of surveillance into a localized occult system. Through this relationship the cameras were revealed as a potentially menacing presence in the South African urban landscape.

Paper long abstract:

All forms of technology develop their own social biographies {Appadurai, 1986 #9}. Surveillance cameras intended to bring a law and order presence into Cape Town quickly gained a reputation as being co-opted by witches. Witchcraft had transformed technological surveillance into a localized occult. Through this relationship the cameras were revealed as a potentially menacing presence in the South African urban landscape. The cameras were a ward and fetish for the South African state struggling against a deepening problem of crime and terrorism and were intended as a reassuring god-like eye guarding the prosperous as they went about shopping. But the occult in Africa has a habit of coupling with technologies to bring into being disorder, and in such disorder produce significant insights into the underworld of the social life of modern things. In the Columbian gold mines the devil and money changed hands (Taussig 1980) and in South Africa witches coupled with cameras. As (Behrend 2003) notes in Africa it was Europeans who first placed photographic technologies into a context of power, killing, magic and witchcraft, and who deployed such technologies to discipline and punish. "The obvious presence of a surveillance camera may reassure us about security precautions or induce the disturbing sensation of being observed by invisible methods"(Connell 2002:57). It is this disturbing element to the cameras that drew the witches. The rapidity that witches became entangled with cameras after their introduction was remarkable and a demonstration of a supple responsiveness of the occult in South Africa.

panel P37
World, chaos and disorder