Africa Thesis Award 2003

Riekje Pelgrim

The jury of the ASC Master's Thesis Award has decided to present the 2003 ASC Master's Thesis Award to Ms Riekje Pelgrim for her thesis "Witchcraft and Policing: Attitudes of the South African Police Forces Towards the Belief in Witchcraft and Towards Witchcraft Related Crime in the Northern Province".

Full text of thesis

South Africa's Northern Province is being increasingly confronted with so-called witch-attacks - violent assaults on individuals or groups who are believed to be practicing witchcraft. In Witchcraft and Policing Riekje Pelgrim discusses this subject from the point of view of the police. She investigates the dynamics between (a) the views and beliefs of the local community with its witchcraft discourse, (b) the stipulations of national witchcraft legislation and (c) the dilemmas facing the police with regard to local views (which they often share) and national legislation.

The researcher combines participant observation, including open-ended interviews both in local communities and among the police, with an analysis of the literature and with the study of primary sources such as police files and local historical documents.

The reasons for the Jury's decision to present the 2003 ASC Master's Award to Riekje Pelgrim are as follows:

  • The subject of the thesis is highly relevant. To write about such a sensitive and complicated issue from the point of view of the police is an original and innovative approach. The thesis offers a convincing description and analysis of witchcraft as an ongoing social, political and theoretical dilemma.
  • The researcher has applied an impressive mix of methodologies. The thesis contains a lot of interesting ethnographic information and fascinating case studies.
  • The thesis is well written and coherent.
  • The author makes the problem of witchcraft and policing accessible to policy makers and other interested parties outside the world of academia.

In conclusion, the Jury would like to congratulate Riekje Pelgrim on her excellent work and is delighted to be able to present her with the 2003 ASC Master's Award.

The Director of the African Studies Centre, Dr Gerti Hesseling, will present the award during a ceremony on 2 October 2003 when Ms Pelgrim will also give a seminar based on her research. The full Jury's report will be available on the ASC website from mid September.

Jos van Beurden
Chairman of the Jury

Full Jury's report (pdf, 24KB)