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 Plessislaer police spokesperson Captain Musa Ntombela said the charges were later withdrawn due to insufficient evidence.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’.