South Africa is no stranger to outrageous acts of faith from pastors who claim that they have supernatural powers, and make use of very unconventional methods of worship.From pastors who have made their congregants eat grass and rats, to pastors who have made people drink petrol, and who can ever forget the infamous Doom pastor?When this trend first reared its ugly head four years ago, shocked South Africans watched as a pastor commanded his church to go out into the field and graze on grass.Small reptiles, including snakes, were later introduced, and then hair, petrol, ants and toilet paper. Pictures of these stunts were posted on social media by the pastors and their congregants, sending shock waves through social media.It was all to demonstrate how God lives in the ordinary person he anointed as a leader, said controversial Mpophomeni pastor Thamsanqa Sambulo.Sambulo made headlines in 2016 after he poured boiling water on himself and members of his church.“People are still coming in and there is a lot of growth in the ministry. “Our name was known all over positively and negatively.“Never will I regret it. I continue. There are other bigger miracles that are happening in the church,” said Sambulo.Thy Word Harvest Ministries pastor Thamsanqa Sambulo.In his latest stunt posted on the Thy Word Harvest Ministries Facebook page, Sambulo said he has healed a congregant who was HIV-positive. He told Weekend Witness that he had to cut himself and the congregant to demonstrate that she had been healed through prayer.After cutting himself and the woman, they then joined their bleeding cuts. “I mixed my blood with hers to prove to the congregation that she could not infect me with HIV; rather I could infect her with life. “She came back with multiple blood test results to prove she was cured.”He added: “People eat what is supposed to be eaten and they still die. “If you eat too much sugar, you get [a high] BP. “We eat what is supposed to kill us but we still live … this must be really God.”While Sambulo agreed that some pastors are bogus, he is against the regulating of churches. “How can you regulate God? If I pour boiling water on people, they come to my church knowing what I do. I don’t manipulate or control anyone.“There is no school for a calling. If you ask me how I learnt to heal people, I never learnt anywhere. It is a gift that was given to me by God.A life lostNonhlanhla Gcwensa from Mpumuza lost her daughter, Deborah Ngcobo, in 2016 after she was burnt by a pastor during a church ritual. She said she still yearns for justice.Deborah Ngcobo died after sustaining injuries during a ‘church healing ceremony’. Gcwensa said while she will never see her daughter again, she believes stricter measures need to be taken against bogus pastors.“Regulating churches will bring justice for other victims who may suffer the same fate as my daughter,” she said.Ngcobo (22) died after sustaining severe burn wounds while attending a “healing ceremony” at a church.The pastor allegedly mixed methylated spirits, petrol, paraffin, Jeyes Fluid and water together. It was reported that he then 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 burnt.Gcwensa said she has not found closure after her daughter’s death because no one was held accountable.While the pastor was arrested after the incident and charged with attempted murder, charges against him were subsequently withdrawn due to insufficient evidence.“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 after the incident, her daughter could not talk or eat. “Deborah’s whole face was covered in bandages. After she was discharged from the hospital, she had to go back because her condition deteriorated.” To regulate or not to regulate?Executive director of the Freedom of Religion organisation, Michael Swain, disagrees with the regulation of churches and says 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 says 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.”Lucas Ngoetjana, deputy chief executive officer of the KwaZulu-Natal Christian Council (KZNCC) says it is concerning that South African churches are not regulated. “We don’t have standards or laws; anyone can come in and open a church. Freedom for churches is limitless and pastors do not abide by any code of conduct.”Faith-healing products are big businessThe Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL) said in its report last year that money has become the core business of South Africa’s unregulated and scrupulous churches.The 33-page report revealed that churches have been turned into money-making schemes. Not only are church leaders charging congregants substantial amounts before blessings and prayers can be said over them, but they are also selling blessed water and oils at a high mark-up price.But that’s not all. The report said that some churches have ATMs and speed point machines on their premises, and congregants are encouraged to use them as a convenient way to give offerings and tithes.It said that T-shirts, towels and Vaseline are also sold to congregants for good luck.Controversial KwaZulu-Natal pastor King H.Q. Nala is known for selling faith water, Nala juice, faith oil and miracle towels, which he claims heal a range of diseases, including HIV/Aids.On the church’s website it states that 1,5 litres of faith water is priced at R40, while Nala juice is R15. The miracle cloth is R40, the Nala pen is R25 and the faith oil is R100.Last December, Pastor Shepherd Huxley Bushiri, who is known to live a luxurious lifestyle, received criticism after purchasing a luxury vehicle for his six-year-old daughter. Known to his followers as Major One, Bushiri took to Facebook last year to show off his daughter’s birthday gift. According to Wheels24, the Maserati Levante costs anything from a whopping R1,65 million.While some on social media thought this was cute, others criticised him for robbing the people. Commenting on the picture on Bushiri’s Facebook page, Kgamane Phankalash Tilotsane said: “It will take 13 more years for this child to drive this car and you are busy saying you ‘connect’ while you are in debt because of the R25 k you paid for the gala dinner. Eat their money, Malawian boy. Businessman of the year goes to you. You are smart.”Fiffy Constance said she is convinced that Bushiri’s followers are bewitched. “Some of you have probably never met this man in person or had a word with him because he is expensive. It’s hilarious though. He used your money to buy his daughter a car while some of you don’t even have bicycles. What are your kids getting for Xmas?” she asked.Thabiso Sthabi Raseobi said: “Go deeper, Papa! Milk them until there’s nothing left. By the time they wake up, you will be a billionaire. This is a dog-eat-dog world, and only the brave survive. You surely deserve an entrepreneur of the year award.”Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, the chairperson of the CRL commission, said their investigations found a lot of profit is being made in the sector. “Part of it is what they call faith-healing products — out of that you find that there’s a lot of money changing hands,” she said.The coexistence of religion and trade is not uncommon. It is not against the law. But not paying tax on trade receipts is, which is why the South African Revenue Service (SARS) has launched a tax non-compliance investigation into the sector. According to SARS, while most religious leaders and organisations are tax compliant, there are reports suggesting some are not.Senzo Mkosi, the acting SARS spokesperson, said this is largely because some institutions are single entities with multiple congregations and others are made up of independent congregations and bodies. Mkosi said it is difficult to determine what tax is being paid.Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said some of the religious organisations that appeared before the commission were making a profit of about R1 million a month by selling products. “It’s quite a big industry. It’s an industry on its own.” She said another difficulty is that some institutions are hiding trading profits as donations. “They will say donate R20 and I will give you this bottle of water. That’s how they cover it. But, I mean seriously, if I don’t give you the R20, I am not getting the bottle of water.”Why are people gullible?Local psychologist Clive Willows said that bereft of sound leadership and with widespread unemployment and poverty, “an atmosphere of despair prevails allowing charismatic movements to flourish”.“As with most marketing strategies, these movements will benefit from people’s fears and greed,” said Willows.He said as with political parties which may be devoid of viable and practical answers, their growth will depend on leaders who regurgitate populist rhetoric and promises of a better life.“This groundswell of creating an emotional euphoria will elevate the leaders to a status whereby they become the focus of adoration, and the original message of the religion is lost.”Willows said this is particularly evident in churches aligning with Christian beliefs which substantiate their doctrine by the power and success of their leader, whereas the foundation of the gospel portrays the original leader as one who washed the feet of others and rode humbly on a donkey.