Li­cens­ing the preach­ers

Mom of dead woman wel­comes what some call ‘state cap­ture of re­li­gion’


A PIETERMARITZBURG mother who lost her child be­cause of a church “heal­ing cer­e­mony” says reg­u­lat­ing churches will help bring jus­tice.

Nonhlanhla Gcwensa from Mpumuza out­side Eden­dale was com­ment­ing in the con­text of rec­om­men­da­tions made by the Com­mis­sion for the Pro­mo­tion and Pro­tec­tion of the Rights of Cul­tural, Reli­gious and Lin­guis­tic Com­mu­ni­ties (CRL) that faith prac­ti­tion­ers and places of wor­ship be reg­is­tered with an ac­cred­ited “um­brella or­gan­i­sa­tion”.

“Reg­u­lat­ing churches will bring jus­tice for other vic­tims who may suf­fer the same fate as my daugh­ter,” she said.

Her daugh­ter, Deb­o­rah Ng­cobo (22), died in De­cem­ber as a re­sult of sus­tain­ing se­vere burn wounds while at­tend­ing a “heal­ing cer­e­mony” at a church.

Speak­ing to an Echo re­porter af­ter the in­ci­dent, Deb­o­rah said she had at­tended a night vigil where she was burned.

The pas­tor had al­legedly mixed methy­lated spir­its, petrol, paraf­fin, Jeyes Fluid and wa­ter to­gether. He then al­legedly lit a can­dle and started spit­ting the mixed “rem­edy” out of his mouth. In the re­sult­ing flames, Ng­cobo, who was sit­ting in the front row, was badly burned.

Gcwensa said she had not found clo­sure af­ter her daugh­ter’s death be­cause no one was held accountable.

At the time Gcwensa said she blamed the pas­tor for her daugh­ter’s death.

“What type of pas­tor uses petrol and paraf­fin to heal peo­ple? I have been a Chris­tian for many years and have never heard of it.”

She said her daugh­ter had been in se­ri­ous pain af­ter the in­ci­dent. “She could not talk or eat. Her whole face was cov­ered in ban­dages. She went back to the hos­pi­tal and her con­di­tion de­te­ri­o­rated and she died.”

The pas­tor was ar­rested af­ter the in­ci­dent and charged with at­tempted mur­der. Plessis­laer po­lice spokesper­son Cap­tain Musa Ntombela said the charges were later with­drawn due to in­suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence.

Pres­i­dent of the Seth Mok­i­tini Methodist Sem­i­nary in Pietermaritzburg, Pro­fes­sor Si­man­gal­iso Ku­malo, agreed reg­u­lat­ing churches would help to pre­serve the rep­u­ta­tion of re­li­gion in gen­eral. “You can’t have a sec­tor of so­ci­ety that is not or­gan­ised. Re­li­gion must be reg­u­lated and reli­gious prac­ti­tion­ers and or­gan­i­sa­tions must be held accountable for their ac­tions. There is no en­tity in the world that is per­fect and can­not be abused,” he said.

Ku­malo, how­ever, said that it was the job of reli­gious ex­perts and not the gov­ern­ment to cre­ate guide­lines. “It is the pro­fes­sion­als within the reli­gious fra­ter­nity them­selves who must de­cide the reg­u­la­tions. Gov­ern­ment must not im­pose rec­om­men­da­tions on reli­gious prac­ti­tion­ers and or­gan­i­sa­tions.”

CEO of the KwaZulu­Na­tal Chris­tian Coun­cil Dou­glas Dziva said the rec­om­men­da­tions strike a healthy bal­ance be­tween up­hold­ing the prin­ci­ple of reli­gious free­dom and the law­abid­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of cit­i­zens. “We need to ap­pre­ci­ate that the reli­gious sec­tor deals with very sen­si­tive as­pects of hu­man life. Es­pe­cially where an­swers to hu­man chal­lenges are not easy to pro­vide. It is for this rea­son that many be­come vul­ner­a­ble to all kinds of abuse by peo­ple who claim to pro­vide di­vine so­lu­tions that are at odds with the hu­man rights val­ues and spirit of our con­sti­tu­tional or­der.”

Ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Free­dom of Re­li­gion or­gan­i­sa­tion, Michael Swain, dis­agreed and said the rec­om­men­da­tions are un­work­able, un­nec­es­sary and un­con­sti­tu­tional. “Li­cens­ing ev­ery reli­gious prac­ti­tioner and place of wor­ship will not pro­tect con­gre­gants be­cause the core prob­lem is a lack of law en­force­ment,” he said.

Swain said the rec­om­men­da­tions fun­da­men­tally al­ter the his­toric re­la­tion­ship be­tween the state and the reli­gious com­mu­nity. “It is a clear over­reach of the leg­isla­tive pow­ers and pre­rog­a­tives of the Com­mis­sion, which do not grant them ex­ec­u­tive power. Their at­tempt is mis­guided, un­con­sti­tu­tional and amounts to state cap­ture of re­li­gion.”


ABOVE: Nonhlanhla Gcwensa’s daugh­ter Deb­o­rah Ng­cobo (in­set) died as a re­sult of sus­tain­ing se­vere burn wounds while at­tend­ing a ‘church heal­ing cer­e­mony’.

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