Year: 2018

Working Paper Number: 426

Unit: CSSR

Author: Julia Hampton


Khayelitsha is a low-income, urban township in South Africa characterised by dilapidated housing and inadequate sanitation services and waste management. This makes it a valuable site to investigate whether belief in witchcraft might vary depending on personal socioeconomic characteristics, living conditions and behavioural and attitudinal dimensions of personal agency and social cohesion. To explore these relationships, multiple linear regression analysis is conducted using the Khayelitsha Rodent Survey (2018) and the Khayelitsha Panel Survey (2007). Drawing extensively on the anthropological literature on witchcraft, this paper illustrates how ethnographic insights can be supported by more systematic, quantitative methods. This analysis points to the centrality of ‘agency panic’ and eroded social capital among neighbours when explaining witchcraft beliefs. In Site C, this belief in malign magic is the norm, especially among men and is associated with lower levels of interpersonal trust and an increased likelihood of inertia in the face of rodent infestation, other relevant variables held fixed.

Publication file: WP426-Hampton