Rights commission, MPs butt heads over Ngcobo 'warning'

2018-03-20 21:29
CRL chairperson Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva during a panel discussion of experts. Photo by: Jabu Kumalo

CRL chairperson Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva during a panel discussion of experts. Photo by: Jabu Kumalo

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Cape Town – The Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission) and MPs could not see eye to eye on whether Parliament was adequately warned about the "ticking time bomb" that was the Seven Angels Ministry church in Ngcobo.

The commission appeared before the Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs on Tuesday to brief it on the tragedy that claimed 13 lives in February.

Commission chairperson Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva slammed Parliament in the wake of the matter, claiming Parliament had been "informed" about the church's cult status beforehand, City Press reported.

READ: Inside cop killers' horror sex cult

This was during a public parliamentary process debating the regulation of religion and religious leaders last year.

It was concluded that regulating religion was problematic, but Parliament was open to the idea of self-regulation by religious leaders. A national consultative conference would be held in future.

However, MPs on Tuesday showed their unhappiness with Mkhwanazi-Xaluva's statement and called for her to withdraw it.

Parliament went through a lengthy process to review the issue, DA MP Kevin Mileham said.

"That process takes quite some time, it has to come before a committee, public hearings must be held, it must be approved by the National Assembly. It's not something that happens overnight.

"The first hearings happened in October last year. What exactly did the chair expect Parliament or this committee to do?"

'We have never known of any criminality'

The issues in Ngcobo were criminal matters, and if the commission knew of criminality, it needed to go to straight to the police, Mileham contended.

"It was very unfortunate for the chair to say we rejected their report," said ANC MP Enock Mthethwa.

"There is nowhere that said there was a time bomb ticking somewhere. We have never known of any criminality happening at Ngcobo."

ANC MP Jabulane Dube added: "The statement was misleading. It's reckless and I think the chair should withdraw."

It was not right to create the perception that Parliament had been sleeping on the job, he said.

The recommendation to make the commission the final arbiter on religious leaders was ultimately the reason they rejected the report, Mileham clarified.

Mkhwanazi-Xaluva stood firm, however.

WATCH DOCUMENTARY: Angels of Death

'Go ask Parliament'

"We analysed the final report of Parliament, and our understanding was that our proposal had been rejected," she explained.

"Parliament said they are not going that route, they are looking at a national consultative conference, a charter and a code of ethics.

"All that we said [in the statement], which I've repeated several times, is go ask Parliament about it."

The commission had sound clips from its meeting with Parliament, where the commission referred to the church as a "ticking time bomb", and would try and make them publicly available.

The rights commission maintained there was room for a peer-review mechanism.

"There can be no abolition of religion. But you can regulate religion practitioners because it is a profession," she argued.

"So our point of departure is that you can't regulate religion, but we are committed to a national dialogue on a code of ethics [for religious leaders]."

Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Zweli Mkhize, who was also present, said it was best if the committee and the commission agreed on the way forward.

"It shouldn't be that when there is a problem or a crisis, we tear each other apart. We should be uniting to find a solution," Mkhize said.

'That's not correct'

Committee chairperson Richard Mdakane summed up the proceedings, saying Parliament agreed with the commission on the core issues.

It was just Mkhwanazi-Xaluva's statement that was "unfortunate".

"As the National Assembly, we don't differ on this issue. We agreed on this issue of the peer-review mechanism.

"Everything that you propose, we agree. We differ on the issue whether we want you [the commission] to regulate this yourself."

It was correct for the state to try and protect vulnerable people, and the upcoming national dialogue was meant to determine how.

"Just don't say the sector is problematic as a whole because of one individual. Deal with the individual.

"Don't just go into the media to say the sector is terrible. That's not correct."

After the meeting, Mdakane released a statement saying the misunderstanding had been cleared, and it was just a matter of an "unfortunate statement", but the committee was "happy now".

Mkhwanazi-Xaluva did not withdraw the statement before the meeting ended.

Read more on:    thoko mkhwanazi-xaluva  |  ngcobo massacre

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