The Devil Rejoiced: Volk, Devils and Moral Panic in White South Africa, 1978–1982


  • Danielle Dunbar,

  • Sandra Swart

  • This paper is drawn from Danielle Dunbar, “The Devil's Children: Volk, Devils and Moral Panics in White South Africa, 1976–1993” (MA thesis, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, 2012), supervised by Sandra Swart at Stellenbosch University. Many thanks to our anonymous referees, Lindie Koorts, Dané van Wyk, the HFM graduate discussion group at Stellenbosch University, and the insights of those when an earlier version of this paper was presented at a seminar for the History Department of Stellenbosch University in May 2012, and at the Conference of the Historical Association in Pretoria, South Africa, 6–7 July 2012.
  • Danielle Dunbar is a researcher at University of Stellenbosch and doctoral student at University of Oxford, Faculty of History, St Cross College, St Giles, Oxford, OX1 3LZ, United Kingdom. Email:
  • Sandra Swart is Associate Professor at University of Stellenbosch, History Department, Private Bag X1, Matieland 7602, South Africa. Email:


The first four years of P.W. Botha's premiership in apartheid South Africa were plagued by intra-party politicking, renewed anti-apartheid resistance, economic instability, and Satan. Between 1978 and 1982, the heavy political rhetoric of “total onslaught” inflected perceived “moral onslaught” in a virulent moral panic over Satanism in white, and particularly Afrikaner, South Africa. With attention to its discursive and socio-political context, this paper seeks to explore the emergence of this distinct satanic moral panic in white South African history, arguing that it reflects the intense political and moral ambiguity of white society as the edifices of apartheid began to fracture.