Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

TEN stories from SA’s press in recent months exemplify the attitudes, values and beliefs that rarely dominate front-page headlines or attract proper analysis or introspection. There are hundreds of these kinds of oddities that pepper the regional and local press — many horrific in their bizarreness. But, for the most part, they form the backdrop of a national conversation about other things. Meanwhile, less brutal stories speak to a range of other attitudes that are less bloody, but which do violence to ideas such as free speech.

We spend much time worrying about the grand crisis, and rightly so; it is worth asking whether the government functions properly, if we have the right policies in place, and whether the right leaders are executing them, and what remains?

Look past all that, and you will get a sense, in the many and varied cultural impulses that underpin so much in SA, that a properly managed state is a veneer. There’s a series of far more troubling characteristics we are yet to have a proper conversation about, let alone acknowledge outright.

Here are the ten stories:

1. R5,000 a head

The Western Cape High Court is currently hearing the case of 15-year-old Lee Adams. His body was found decapitated in 2013. His head was allegedly to be sold to a sangoma for R5,000. It was later found buried in the yard of Aljar Swartz, the accused. The murder took place at an abandoned school, which the Western Cape department of public Works has said will be fenced off and demolished. (Reporting primarily from Eye Witness News)

2. Chocolate snakes

Pastor Penuel Mnguni at the Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Rights Commission. Mnguni became infamous when exposed for instructing his followers to eat live snakes. He claims he turned the snakes into chocolate, just as Jesus turned water into wine. "Many people they listen too much to media not to the reality, so the reality, here it is, it was chocolate," according to Mnguni. He says he is willing to give an interview to the media for R100,000. (TimesLive)

3. The devil you know

Also this month, the Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM) has called for M-Net to ban the series, Lucifer. AFM president Dr Isak Burger says: "The Lucifer series, whether intentional or not, portrays Satan — the personification of all that is evil — in a sympathetic manner. This is highly dangerous, especially to impressionable youth in our nation." According to Deadline.com, the series focuses on Lucifer Morningstar, "who is bored and unhappy as the Lord of Hell and resigns his throne and abandons his kingdom for the beauty of Los Angeles, where he gets his kicks helping the LAPD punish criminals". (IOL)

4. Primal urge

In January, a 20-year-old man was arrested in Mpumalanga under the Animal Protection Act for bestiality and torturing an animal. Neighbours had discovered him asleep with a four year-old puppy dead next to him. The man was still wearing a condom. A postmortem of the dog was undertaken and the man subsequently arrested. (Middelburg Observer)

5. Chastity for cash

Last month it was revealed that the UThukela District Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal awarded 16 bursaries to young virgin women, to further their studies. "Sixteen of these bursaries went to the girls for still being virgins. However, in order to keep their bursaries, these maidens will have to undergo a check-up every holiday. If they lose their virginity, then the bursary gets taken away," municipality spokesperson Jabulani Mkhonza said.

One winner, a 22-year-old from Estcourt, says it opened doors for her. She said the municipality tested her in June and December 2014. The test involved lying on a grass mat, where an elderly woman would examine her: "They open the vagina and look, but they don’t insert anything in it. I have never heard of them getting it wrong." (News24)

6. Demon death

Late in January four women in KwaZulu-Natal were given lengthy sentences in the High Court in Durban after they were convicted of disembowelling 14-year-old Snethemba Dlamini, who they believed was "demon possessed" in order to "rid her of the demon". Two received life sentences and two got 12 years in jail, "half suspended for a period of five years on condition that they are not convicted of a similar offence during this period". In describing the case, National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson in KwaZulu-Natal Natasha Kara said: "Dlamini was held down while Faku used a knife and her hands to remove Dlamini’s intestines and internal organs through her vaginal cavity. Dlamini died on the scene." (IOL)

7. Colour blindness

At Stellenbosch University, following a themed party of which pictures were posted to Facebook, the Open Stellenbosch organisation mistook a number of people who had painted themselves purple as having painted themselves black. Following an uproar, two students were immediately suspended pending an investigation. Open Stellenbosch first apologised, and then retracted its apology, saying, "This apology was, however, issued without the consensus of the collective and should not be considered to be the current stance of OS on the ‘blackface’ incident". It finally arrived at the position that, "We as OS maintain that the fact that the student filtered the photo to appear black and then knowingly continued to upload the photo herself on to social media clearly confirms that this is a blackface incident." (IOL)

8. Killed for a cure

Late in November last year a traditional healer was arrested for his involvement in the beheading of an intellectually impaired cricketer, Nawaaz Khan (23), of Gandhinagar in KwaZulu-Natal. Khan had won the Cricket SA’s 2013 Intellectually Impaired Cricketer of the Year award. He was waiting for a visa to be approved so he could represent SA against Australia in an upcoming series. He had been lured to a field by his best friend, who had been told a traditional healer needed a head to cure his problems. "The traditional healer and Khan’s friend lured Khan to the crime scene in Isonti. While there, Khan was attacked with a bush knife and beheaded," according to Detective Warrant Officer Steyn Moonsamy. Later, the skeletal remains of a woman were found in the same place Khan’s body had been recovered. She too had been beheaded. (Daily News)

9. Satan’s work

"This is a despicable act of violence and hatred. It is unlikely that young people in their twenties can have so much deep-seated hatred and kill even a one-year-old with a panga without being possessed by Satan, or under the influence of drugs." This was the response of KwaZulu-Natal Premier Senzo Mchunu to news that two brothers had hacked to death a family of eight, including two infants, with bush knives in November last year. The brothers believed the father of the family was practising witchcraft. The other seven victims, they suggested, were "innocent". (IOL)

10. Death and a salesman

A 27-year-old employee at a local mortuary in Kuruman, the Northern Cape, was arrested in January for the possession of human body parts. Various stolen tombstones were also found at his house. Trade in human body parts is relatively common in South African hospitals and mortuaries. In the same month, an Mpumalanga man was arrested for stashing human tonsils in the toilet of a local bank. (SABC News)