'You couldn't count the cars' - CRL on Ngcobo ministry's 'opulence'

2018-03-20 19:30
CRL chairperson Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva (Jabu Kumalo)

CRL chairperson Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva (Jabu Kumalo)

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DOCUMENTARY | News24 takes you inside the cult that captured an Eastern Cape community

2018-03-15 20:30

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Cape Town - The CRL Rights Commission told Parliament on Tuesday that the "ticking time bomb" that was the Seven Angels Ministry in Ngcobo, spent way above its means.

The Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission) appeared before the Portfolio Committee on Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs on Tuesday to brief them on the tragedy that claimed 13 lives in one week in February.

It started on February 21, when attackers entered the Ngcobo police station between Mthatha and Queenstown and opened fire. By the end of the evening, five police officers and a soldier had been killed.

Two days later, seven suspects were killed and 10 others were arrested at the church, following a shootout with police.

The ministry, which had gained close to 300 followers by the time the commission launched an inquiry in 2016, showed all the hallmarks of excessive cult-like spending, the commission submitted.

DOCUMENTARY | News24 takes you inside the cult that captured an Eastern Cape community

It was during its first three-hour meeting with the seven Mancoba brothers who led the church, that the commission noticed several "German-made cars" on the premises.

"At that point in the church, no one was working, but they were buying expensive cars like that. It means they were spending beyond the norm," chairperson Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said.

"The proof was in me asking them how many cars they had. They responded: 'We don't know, you'll have to come and count them yourself. We have lots of cars'.

"If you cannot tell how many cars you have, then we are in another bracket of recklessness."

'Rapid, ridiculous spending'

Most of the church's followers had sold their worldly possessions to donate them to the organisation and its leaders over time. Spending had become "opulent, rapid and ridiculous", the commission said.

"The church had been running since 1995 and even since then, it had cult-like tendencies," Mkhwanazi-Xaluva continued.

"They would sell their houses and then sit there waiting for Jesus Christ to come. The 'angels', which are seven brothers, took over when the father died in 2015.

"[But] their popularity was going to wane soon. When it comes to cults, you get popular, your followers bring you money, then you [have] 200 or 300 people or more, who must be fed, looked after, and clothed."

With no source of income and excessive spending, the organisation would inevitably have to find ways to supplement its income, Mkhwanazi-Xaluva added.

'Concern was for the children'

The CRL Rights Commission's initial concern was for the children housed in the "church" along with the adults who were there voluntarily.

"Part of what those people were saying, however, was that they willingly did that. No one was forcing them; no one was oppressing them.

"Another challenge was, it wouldn't be the angels but the parents [who resisted]. Some were already adults at that point.

"Two of them had never been to school and they were already 20 years old."

READ: Private school for cult leader’s kids

Nonetheless, children had to be protected by the Constitution, especially if they were being forced to miss school. They had issues with the curriculum and with health care, Mkhwanazi-Xaluva added.

"We raised these issues with the brothers, saying that's where they were violating all the laws and the Constitution.

"The rest however, were not breaking any laws. If they wanted to donate all their life savings to a church, there is no law against that."

At that point in 2016, some children were removed and placed in the hands of social workers, while reports of sexual offences were handed over to the police, the commission submitted.

'What happens when the money dries up?'

But it was the central conflict with adults who were there voluntarily, that made the issue complicated for the commission.

"If you say you are an angel, and you were chosen to be brought into the world, the normal laws only go so far, because it's not illegal to call myself an angel or devil.

"The people who were there truly believed they were angels."

The commission's added fear was what would happen when the money dried up.

Given the commission's research into cults around the world, when sustainability is an issue, calamity usually follows.

"This is why in our report [table in October 2017], we identified that element of extremism that could lead to some sort of suicide," she explained.

"The idea was that, when the money dried out, as 'angels' they would say to the people: 'Let's go and [meet] Jesus in the clouds.' That was the invitiation," the commission said about its fears.

Later on Tuesday, MPs were expected to ask the commission about a statement it issued last month in which it blamed Parliament for having known about the "ticking time bomb" pointed out in the CRL Rights Commission's report.

At the time, Parliament was not happy with the statement and called for engagement on the issue.

The meeting continued.


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