CityPress - - News - ZINHLE MAPUMULO zinhle.mapumulo@city­

Money, not God, is the corner­stone of South Africa’s un­reg­u­lated and un­scrupu­lous churches.

Now, the Com­mis­sion for the Pro­mo­tion and Pro­tec­tion of the Rights of Cul­tural, Re­li­gious and Lin­guis­tic Com­mu­ni­ties (CRL) has urged Par­lia­ment to deal speed­ily with its re­port on the com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion of re­li­gion.

Chair­per­son Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said it was im­per­a­tive that the com­mis­sion’s find­ings be im­ple­mented ur­gently as de­lays could mean more wrong­do­ing.

“Ev­ery day we hear of new and shock­ing sto­ries about the abuse of peo­ple in churches and the com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion of re­li­gion. As a com­mis­sion, we are wor­ried that if what we see in some churches con­tin­ues, it could have detri­men­tal ef­fects on so­ci­ety,” she said.

Mkhwanazi-Xaluva was speak­ing a few days af­ter sub­mit­ting a re­port to Par­lia­ment de­tail­ing its find­ings.

The 33-page re­port re­vealed that churches had been turned into money-mak­ing schemes.

Not only were church lead­ers charg­ing con­gre­gants a “con­sul­ta­tion fee” be­fore giv­ing them bless­ings or pray­ing for them, but they were also run­ning fully op­er­a­tional shops where holy wa­ter, oil and cloth­ing were sold to con­gre­gants at marked-up prices. But that’s not all. Some churches had ATMs and speed point ma­chines on their premises, and con­gre­gants were en­cour­aged to use them as a con­ve­nient way to give of­fer­ings and tithes.

Mkhwanazi-Xaluva de­scribed this prac­tice as sim­i­lar to run­ning a su­per­mar­ket un­der the guise of run­ning a church.

“Why would churches sell cloth­ing and ev­ery other item if the in­ten­tion was not to make a profit?” she asked.

She said the com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion of re­li­gion was the com­mis­sion’s big­gest con­cern with re­gard to some churches, given that they are all sup­posed to be non­profit or­gan­i­sa­tions.

“In some churches, we found that ac­cess to the spir­i­tual lead­ers was only guar­an­teed by pay­ment of a fixed amount of money,” Mkhwanazi- Xaluva said.

“T-shirts, tow­els and Vase­line were sold to con­gre­gants for good luck, mean­ing that con­gre­gants were made to be­lieve that if they bought these items, they would have good luck.”

The find­ings also re­vealed that many churches in South Africa were op­er­at­ing il­le­gally.

Ac­cord­ing to South African law, any church op­er­at­ing here is re­quired to be reg­is­tered ei­ther with the de­part­ment of so­cial devel­op­ment as a non­profit or­gan­i­sa­tion or with the SA Rev­enue Ser­vice (Sars) as a pub­lic ben­e­fit or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Many were found not to be reg­is­tered as ei­ther.

“Some churches that are reg­is­tered with the so­cial devel­op­ment de­part­ment do not even re­port to the de­part­ment an­nu­ally, as re­quired by law,” said Mkhwanazi-Xaluva. “Some do not even dis­close to Sars the amount of money they make per year and, in so do­ing, avoid pay­ing tax.” She gave as an ex­am­ple some churches which made mil­lions ev­ery year and 90% of that money was shipped out of the coun­try, leav­ing the re­main­der to ser­vice the com­mu­nity in which they op­er­ated. “Some churches tell their con­gre­gants that money has to be paid to their head of­fices and, we dis­cov­ered, most of these head of­fices are based out­side the coun­try,” said Mkhwanazi-Xaluva. “Church lead­ers also do not ap­ply to the Re­serve Bank be­fore money is repa­tri­ated out of the coun­try. This amounts to il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity. “In some cases, money col­lected from church mem­bers was never banked with any com­mer­cial bank. In oth­ers, the money col­lected from con­gre­gants was de­posited di­rectly into the pas­tor’s pri­vate bank ac­count, mean­ing that he or she could have used it for per­sonal rea­sons.” Lack of ac­count­abil­ity and the ab­sence of peer re­view struc­tures were ad­di­tional mis­deeds flagged by the CRL com­mis­sion. Its find­ings showed that

TALK TO US Do you agree with the pro­posal for a peer re­view sys­tem to be set up?

SMS us on 35697 us­ing the key­word CHURCH and tell us what you think. Please in­clude your name and prov­ince. SMSes cost R1.50 some churches had no code of con­duct. So, if a pas­tor vi­o­lated du­ties by, for in­stance, feed­ing snakes to con­gre­gants, there wa way of re­port­ing him to a dis­ci­plinary body for ac­tion to be tak against him.

“No one can or­der peo­ple to un­der­take ques­tion­able re­li­giou prac­tices like eat­ing grass, snakes or rats, or drink­ing petrol; no can they lock peo­ple in a deep-freeze or drive over them. This why we rec­om­mended that a peer re­view sys­tem be set up: for re­li­gious lead­ers to be held ac­count­able for their ac­tions,” said Mkhwanazi-Xaluva.

“We can­not have a free-for-all where peo­ple op­er­ate with­out im­punity. Pas­toral­ship is a pro­fes­sion, and like any other pro­fes­sion, it should be reg­u­lated.”

This rec­om­men­da­tion has ruf­fled the feath­ers of Free­dom of Re­li­gion SA, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that de­scribes it­self as the voice of Chris­tian church.

Michael Swain, its ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, said it was ev­i­dent that com­mis­sion’s rec­om­men­da­tion that a peer re­view sys­tem be im­posed proved that it wanted to con­trol re­li­gion in South Afric

“Our con­cern is that although the CRL com­mis­sion’s pro­posa may seem be­nign, it clearly amounts to a power grab by the CR cap­ture the re­li­gious com­mu­nity and bring it un­der the con­trol the state,” said Swain.

“As such, it will al­most cer­tainly turn can­cer­ous at some poin and is widely con­demned and op­posed by the re­li­gious commu

“There are ex­ist­ing laws in place to deal with ev­ery abuse tha the CRL has iden­ti­fied and these sim­ply need to be en­forced. F ex­am­ple, the Prophet of Doom [the name at­trib­uted to Pas­tor Lethebo Ra­bal­ago] was in­ter­dicted us­ing ex­ist­ing law and pro­hib­ited from spray­ing poi­sonous sub­stances on peo­ple or per­form­ing any sim­i­lar ac­tion, or else he would face time in jail

Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva

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