Churches cannot be spaza shops - rights commission

2015-10-25 17:00


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Johannesburg - Churches cannot be spaza shops selling holy water and prayers for a profit, the CRL Rights Commission said on Sunday.

"In the charismatic sector, you start up and report to no one, you report to heaven. If I have a calling tonight, by tomorrow I can buy a tent and a sound system, I can call myself a bishop, a prophet, whatever – and I’m good to go," Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xalavu, chairperson of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission) told News24.

"It can’t be like that when you have access to vulnerable people."

There were cases of water and T-shirts being sold which, if drunk or worn, were promised to cure diseases like HIV/Aids or high blood pressure.

"If you want the pastor to pray for you, very well, then deposit R2 000 before I start praying."

Mkhwanazi-Xalavu said the commission was investigating such practices with the intention to make recommendations to Parliament for changes in the law. At the moment, religious bodies were governed by the same legislation as non-profit organisations. This was problematic because the administration of a soup kitchen and that of a church earning millions were simply not comparable, she said.

The commission’s investigation was initiated following a flurry of complaints, including one from the SA Council of Churches, against pastors Lesego Daniel of Rabboni Ministries and Penuel Mnguni. They both operated around Pretoria.

Daniels encouraged his followers to eat grass and drink petrol. Mnguni got his congregants to eat live snakes and rats. The hearings were not only about these two, Mkhwanazi-Xalavu said.

"That would lose sight of the bigger picture; it’s about going back to Parliament to recommend what kind of legislation to pass."

As such, a random sample of representatives of the Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, African traditional, Rastafarian and Bahai faiths, had been summoned to address the commission at its hearings. The summonses were to ensure that people showed up.

"A ladies and gentleman agreement won’t work."

The commission wanted to see how these bodies operated under the regulations for non-profit organisations.

“Are they registered?  Are these people trained? Are these people submitting annual financial statements that are audited by a registered accountant?  Are they making a profit, which then means are they being taxed?”

The commission’s work had nothing to do with policing how people prayed. It was about protecting people who were told “God is watching, give me your money”.

Hearings had been concluded in Kwazulu-Natal. The next round was scheduled to take place in Gauteng from November 3 to 8.

Pastor Daniels had already been issued with a summons. The commission was looking for Mnguni’s new address after his tent was burnt down in August, allegedly by members of the Economic Freedom Fighters. The party however denied this, saying that while they led a march to the tent, local residents torched it.

Mkhwanazi-Xalavu said the commission would complete its final report by the end of April next year and hoped to present it to Parliament by March. She said tighter laws were essential to stop a free-for-all under the guise of religion.

Read more on:    religion  |  tradition

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