When I was but a child, our land faced the most terrible of plagues. A deadly disease of the soul. We were under siege from the forces of darkness. Yes, satanists! The footmen of hell. The third and final pillar of white fear. Oh, let us count them together. One. die swart gevaar! Two. die rooi gevaar! And three. die donker gevaar! When our government wasn’t harassing black people and communists, it was fighting satanists.
The fear spread across the land. People became obsessed with the unholy workings of Mephisto. In between slices of melktart, old tannies warned us that society was rotten to the core, riddled with Luciferian worms. They said Satan had polluted the minds of children through radio and TV. He was a wily demon capable of the most heinous deceit. And often came to us in the most innocent of disguises
… You can call yourself the Madonna but we see you, Satan, you’re no virgin! … You do not fool us in your Noddy outfit. We know you’ve been sleeping with Big Ears and cavorting with those Golliwogs …
Huisgenoot and You magazine told us about the human sacrifices there by the Carletonville mine dump and down by the beach in PE Me? I was just kid, but I had my theories. I was convinced it was Raggerty from Rupert Bear who was behind all the evil. That little twig demon was minion no.1 in my book.
The threat was so real, the danger so clear and present, the government formed a special occult unit to protect the laager. Not since the Spanish Inquisition had such a dedicated force of demon hunters been put together. These brave men and women spent their nights tackling the depravity and lunacy of the underworld. Armed only with Bibles, R4s, LM6s, shotguns, 9mm pistols, pepper spray, truncheons, pocket knives, teargas, sjamboks, spotlights and tasers they hunted the satanist wherever he lurked. They patrolled the car park of Checkers, Pick n Pay and OK Bazaars. Headlights dimmed, engine quiet, hoping to surprise a dirty coven gathered in amongst the trolleys. They flashed their torches under the prefabs of the local primary school looking for unholy ferals. They hid out in the long grass down by the dam waiting for the hellions to show their pasty-white, blood-drained faces. They scanned any kid they met for the telltale signs of devil worship. Black nail varnish, pale skin, eyeliner, skinny jeans, a trench coat and the severed head of a goat neatly tucked under one arm. It was the nail varnish that usually gave them away. A fail-proof way to spot a malcontent child of Satan. Every few days their findings would be paraded in the local rags. A photo of an officer pointing at the cinders of an old fire. Was it a makeshift braai or a heathen offering? Were those chicken bones or the fingers of a burnt virgin?
At the height of the satanic panic I am sure the government was even holding councils of war. Deep underground in a concrete bunker somewhere near Pofadder or some such place. Their plan? To invade Hell and blow it to smithereens. The only hitch was the sinking feeling in their stomachs that some of their best buddies, Strijdom, Verwoerd and Malan, may be living down there. It would have been like blowing up your retirement village just before you go on pension. So the plan was shelved and they settled on Angola instead. Angola. Antichrist. If you squint your ears, it kind of sounds the same.
Now, you’re probably sitting at home thinking what was all the fuss? They were just a bunch of Goths and early Emo kids doing their thang. Nothing to be scared of. And you are probably right. But if you were brought up anywhere within 666 miles of a church, you’ve heard of God. You also probably know he has no qualms about turning people into pillars of salt, feeding his friends to whales or selling entire nations into slavery. And if he’s meant to be the good guy in the story, you don’t even want to know about the bad guy. Because that guy must be well bad. Bad like a never-ending elevator ride with panpipe covers of the Beatles playing. Another personal vision of Hell. I had to live it for eight weeks once in a small hotel in the North of Scotland. The panpipes morning, day and night, playing Let It Be. Medieval people associated Pan with Satan. Now I know why.
By the late eighties, no one trusted no one. People were seeing pentagrams and goat’s heads in everything. One week, the Pentagon was under suspicion. Next week it was David Kramer and those big red shoes. Only satanists have red shoes. I even remember one week You magazine told us that Saddam Hussein was the antichrist because he once wore a blue turban. Not because he murdered thousands and not because he used biological weapons on his own people but because of his fashion choices. That’s the way witchhunts go. They’re big on hysteria and not so big on logic.
Children who misbehaved were deemed to be possessed. And children who were good? Well, they were obviously possessed too. That child is too well-behaved, must be something going there. They had a saying for it in Afrikaans: Stille waters, diepe grond, onder draai die duiwel rond. Beneath the deep still water you will find the devil circling. That’s the way things went. No stone was left unturned. A hidden stash of porno mags (even the ones with the stars) or a passing interest in electric guitars was cause for an instant exorcism. Dominees, preachers, priests and pastors were working overtime to cope with the demand. Demons were flying out of kids left, right and centre. I think in some small towns in the far north, exorcisms were more popular than birthdays. … Hey, ma, it’s Riaan’s exorcism on Friday, can I go? … As long as you get your homework done … While in Natal, there were apparently more satanists down the South Coast than bananas. I could make a pun about bananas and the state of people’s minds at that time but I won’t. Let’s just say, if the hype was to be believed, the South Coast was on the verge of running out of virgins to sacrifice. The country was hurtling towards Armageddon. About to succumb to an army of fallen angels.
And then nothing. No final battle. No righteous fight. No nothing. We just forgot about it. It was like we had turned a page and the army of darkness was gone. The whole thing just fizzled out like a damp squib. The headlines disappeared. The reports disappeared. In the far North, birthday parties became big again. While on the South Coast, bananas regained their rightful place. The virgins, well, they never came back. But I’m not sure if they existed in the first place. Across the entire country, it was like all the satanists had gone to summer camp and found Jesus. You and Huisgenoot turned their minds to other important things like Steve Hofmeyer’s love life and Bles Bridges at the Sun City Superbowl.
Me, I never turned the page. My mind has stayed suspicious. That may have something to do with the Gorgoroth album playing on the stereo or the fact that it’s cold and dark outside and it’s almost Halloween. But I’ve always wondered where did all the satanists go?