Pretoria - Controversial "snake pastor" Penuel Mnguni is off the hook for now after the case against him was provisionally withdrawn.
Mnguni was due to appear in the Ga-Rankuwa Magistrate's Court on Monday.
“The matter was provisionally withdrawn due to insufficient evidence,” said police spokesperson Warrant Officer Mathews Nkoadi.
“We need more evidence to pursue the matter. According to the prosecutor, the evidence provided was not enough and there were no witness statements.”
Mnguni was arrested on Saturday after the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals laid charges against him for allegedly making congregants eat snakes. He was released on Sunday after paying R1 000 bail.
Nkoadi said the withdrawal of the matter does not mean Mnguni is entirely off the hook.
“If we can get new evidence, the matter will be placed back on the roll. Police are continuing with investigations,” he said.
Mnguni was arrested on Saturday after images of him feeding his congregants snakes were published in newspapers. The images caused an uproar throughout the country, with religious figures condemning the actions.
Mnguni posted photos of some of his services in which he made his congregants eat clothes and hair. He also rode some of them like horses and made them strip naked.
Photos of the congregants eating snakes, saying they tasted like chocolate, led to a backlash from animal activists who went on to lay charges against him.
Meshack Matlou from the SPCA in Pretoria was in court on Monday, expecting the hearing to go ahead.
He was not aware the matter had already been removed from the roll.
He said the SPCA did not know Mnguni was out on bail.
“As far as we knew, the suspect was still in the cells. We thought we would meet in court but we heard that the suspect is out on bail. When I arrived in court this morning [Monday], I found him walking around. He was probably on bail from yesterday [Sunday],” he said.
The inspector, who has been with the SPCA for 39 years, said he was shocked to see the pictures of people eating snakes. He said such actions undo the SPCA's work to teach people and particularly children about the importance of caring for animals.
“We are very concerned to see animals being chewed like Chappies [bubblegum]. That is unacceptable and we are shocked to see such actions. We sometimes go to schools and teach children about love for animals and tell them that those are God’s creations. Now when they see someone eating a snake, I think they will be very traumatised,” he said.
Matlou said he still believes justice will prevail. He said the SPCA had done its part by opening a case against Mnguni.
“We are very concerned and hope the justice system will help us. These animals have rights. This is the first time we see something like this in public and, as the SPCA, we can’t fold our arms and not say anything,” he said.