Commercialisation of Religion and Abuse of People’s Belief Systems: CRL Rights Commission briefing

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Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs

27 June 2017
Chairperson: Mr M Mdakane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Rights Commission (CRLRC) presented its report on the commercialisation of religion and the abuse of people’s belief systems to the Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance, and made recommendations to various departments such as the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), the Department of Social Development (DSD), the South African Revenue Service (SARS), the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the South African Police Service (SAPS).

It recommended that the DHA should ensure that foreign religious leaders’ applications for a work permit should be based on a quota system, like there was in other professions, and that they had to have a letter of recommendation from the CRLRC. It also proposed that foreign religious leaders who applied to become marriage officers must have a letter of recommendation from the Commission.

The recommendation to the DSD was that the registration of religious institutions (places of worship) should be carried out by the Commission to ensure that all relevant laws, such as municipal bylaws, were adhered to.

The Commission’s recommendation to SARS was that they should do an in-depth investigation into tax evasion by some religious leaders and religious institutions, in partnership with the CRLRC.

To the DTI, the recommendation was that through their relevant entities and structures it had to ensure that severe action was taken against those persons and institutions involved in advertising substances that did not follow advertising standards. Misleading advertisements, testimonies and ‘miracles’ in print, broadcasts, social media and online should be stopped. The Commission also recommended that the registration of religious institutions should be moved from the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) to the CRLRC.

The Commission also recommended that SAPS should enforce the law when complaints were lodged pertaining to religious practitioners, because it had found that there was a serious reluctance to act when there were complaints against religious leaders, simply because they were religious leaders.

The Commission said there was an urgent need to amend existing legislation in order to protect the congregants and believers. They emphasised that this was important, before there was a crisis in the country and before people began to die, and therefore its recommendations needed to be implemented with speed. It said they remained convinced that the proposals on the table would ensure that the doctrine of each religion was defended and protected, and that those who were abusing their members would be removed from the system. Another observation was that laws were not effective and efficient, but the Commission’s proposals would ensure that the matters of each religion were dealt with by that particular religion and not the courts. These proposals would ensure the right to freedom of religion.

Religious leaders from various denominations expressed gratitude and appreciation for the work which the Commission was doing, and said that they fully supported it. However, there was a dissenting voice from Freedom of Religion South Africa (FORSA), which asserted that the Commission’s proposals were unconstitutional, and that the abuses it had identified could be dealt with in terms of existing legislation.

After extensive discussion, the Chairperson conceded that there would be no easy answers, but that the State had a responsibility to protect the vulnerable in society, especially when there was indoctrination. The workshop had provided an update and introduction of the Commission’s report, and Parliament would process it after the recess. The Committee would certainly do oversight as well. 

Meeting report

Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Rights Commission (CRLRC): Briefing

Ms Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, Chairperson: CRLRC thanked the Portfolio Committee for the opportunity to come and present their report in the workshop, and said that it was the first of its kind in many years. She would play a 25-minute video clip that would give an idea of what had been happening in the country and what had made them put forward the recommendations they had made. They had been planning to do this behind closed doors, but the high court had ruled that this issue was of national importance. The video clip was about what was currently happening in the country with regards to the commercialisation of religion and abuse of peoples’ belief systems, and also the resistance which the Commission was facing when carrying out its work.

She referred to the presentation slideshow and said it would touch on the constitutional and legislative framework, the reason for the investigative study, research questions, findings, proposed structure, recommendations, and conclusion.

Regarding the constitutional and legislative framework, she said that according to Section 15 (1) of the constitution, everyone had a right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion. The Commission was basing their recommendations on the constitution, and they could not violate that. Section 18 of the constitution stated: “Everyone has the right to freedom of association,” and she believed that their recommendations protected this right. Section 31 (1) stated: “Persons belonging to a cultural, religious or linguistic community may not be denied the right, with other members of that community to (a) enjoy their culture, practise their religion, and use their language; and (b), to form, join and maintain cultural, religious and linguistic associations and other organs of civil society.”

She said the legislative framework further stated that the right in subsection (1) may not be exercised in a manner inconsistent with any provision of the Bill of Rights. In other words, these rights must not violate other rights and there was therefore a limitation to religious rights. Section 36 (1) stated that “the rights in the Bill of Rights may be limited only in terms of law of general application to the extent that the limitation was reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom, taking into account all the factors, including (a) the nature of the right, (b) the importance of the purpose of the limitation, (c) the nature and extent of the limitation, (d) the relation between the limitation and its purpose, and (e) less restrictive means to achieve the purpose.” The exception would be that it was as provided in subsection (1) or in any other provision of the constitution, no law may limit any right entrenched in the Bill of Rights.

She said the CRLRC had interrogated their proposal and had brought in constitutional experts to look at it. She felt that what they were proposing in terms of limitation made sense, because the Commission considered the violations that were out there were so extreme that they needed to look for a mechanism that was reasonable and that was not going to be too extreme. This would be in the proposal section, to see what was meant by “not too extreme.” She said Section 39 (1) stated: “When interpreting the Bill of Rights, a court, tribunal or forum must promote the values that underlie an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom; must consider international law; and may consider foreign law.”

She said the constitution went further to say in subsection (2), “when interpreting any legislation, and when developing the common law or customary law, every court, tribunal or forum must promote the spirit, purport and objects of the Bill of Rights.” It went on to state that “the Bill of Rights does not deny the existence of any other rights or freedoms that were recognised or conferred by common law, customary law or legislation, to the extent that they were consistent with the bill.”

Within the constitution, the CRLRC had covered all the grounds and had therefore also gone to the CRL Act 19 of 2002, which stated the objects of the Commission as being to:

  • to promote respect for and further protection of the rights of cultural, religious and linguistic communities;
  • to promote and develop peace, friendship, humanity, tolerance and national unity within and among cultural, religious and linguistic communities, on the basis of equality, non-discrimination and free association; and
  • to foster mutual respect among cultural, religious and linguistic communities.”

Ms Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said the violations that were happening were abusing the rights of religious communities, in this case, the congregants. There was a Section 5 (1) in their Act which stated that “the commission may do all that was necessary or expedient to achieve its objects referred to in section 4, including to (e) monitor, investigate and research any issue concerning the rights of cultural, religious and linguistic communities” and “(j) to establish and maintain a database of cultural, religious and linguistic community organisations and institutions and experts on these communities.”

What the CRLRC were proposing was not something new but was already in the Act and they needed to implement this part of the Act, which was 5(1) (j), which required them to establish and maintain databases of religious community organisations, which was churches in this sense. Where South Africa was as a nation, they had to figure out how they could solve the problem on the ground. On the question of “why the investigative study?” she referred to the video clip that had been played earlier on and said, “I am sure you have seen some of the problems.”

She said some, but not all, churches were run like businesses, and not even good businesses. Some were not even registered and others were commercialised in terms of making money from poor people, and their beliefs were totally abused. Most communities had asked that something be done about the abuse of people’s beliefs. At the time they had started this initiative, there had been a lot of complaints and cries from communities. The controversial reports and articles in the media -- which had included grass eating, snake feeding and petrol drinking -- had led some members of society to start questioning whether religion had become a commercial institution or a commodity, and indicated how much peoples’ spirituality and beliefs were being abused. Therefore most communities had been asking for something to be done about the perceived commercialisation of religion and abuse of peoples’ beliefs. In response to this, the Commission had decided to investigate and understand further issues surrounding the commercialisation of religion and the abuse of peoples’ belief systems, and also to identify the underlying causes.

The investigative study sought to understand the deep societal thinking that made some members of society vulnerable and gullible with respect to views expressed and actions done during religious ceremonies. They also had to assess the legislative framework that governed the religious sector and its relevance to deal with the prevailing religious challenges. An observation had been made that women were the most vulnerable members of society (alluded to in the video played earlier) and most of the people eating grass and subject to all sorts of strange practices were women. She said women carried the burden in society of having to raise children on their own, and when they looked for help they were easily deceived. Some people had said to them during the investigation, “why would people allow someone to do this to them?” They had therefore done a separate investigation with the University of South Africa (UNISA) in order to understand why people were so gullible and vulnerable. Some of the issues raised as reasons for such vulnerability included poverty, inequality and unemployment.

It was also discovered that people lost more and more hope in normal answers when they felt they were not going to get a job in a normal way, like other people. That was when they became vulnerable, because they started looking for other means, like supernatural answers. Someone would say to such a person, “eat this grass and tomorrow you would find a job.” Where everything seemed closed to them, there was this person in front of them saying “if you do this and that, you would receive what you were looking for.”

For some older people who suffered from chronic illnesses such as diabetes or arthritis, it was easier for them, for example, to buy the water which the church was selling in order to be healed from their disease. They would have people coming to them, saying “my mother or my granny died with her medication still in her bag because the pastor said forget about taking these pills, and if you buy this holy water, you would be cured of your sickness.” Some pastor in Durban was selling water for R30 which he bought for R4, prays for it and then sells it for R30. So the prayer itself was what was being sold, instead of the water. In this sense, the peoples’ belief system was being abused because of their belief in God and in God’s healing power. The commercialisation aspect of it was coupled with abuse. Some old age pensions were used up because people bought water, pictures, oils, caps, etc, because they believed. This was critical because “it was about who you were and what you believed.”

As the CRLRC was doing research, they had to ask questions such as: What was the spread of religious institutions in the country? What various miraculous claims were made by religious leaders in terms of the powers to heal and make miracles? What form of legal framework regulates the religious sectors currently? How much money was generally made by religious institutions and how was it spent?  How did religious institutions generate the funds they had? What governance structures were there in religious institutions that governed them? Part of what they had to do was to ask for financial statements, where some had cooperated and others had refused, saying that the financial statements were private and have nothing to do with the Commission. Some religious leaders go to Home Affairs to register as religious leaders, while others register as non-profit organisations.


Some of the key findings of the research included the fact that there was no comprehensive database where a record of the registered religions and places of worship could be found. There was a high number of unregistered religious institutions and a big surge in the number of both local and foreign religious leaders. Another significant finding was the high death rate of worshippers who were using faith products and defaulting on their chronic medication. The Commission felt that this was a very dangerous situation, because people were defaulting on their medication and using faith products instead.

Regarding the financial abuse of worshippers, she said their findings were that threats were directed at worshippers who did not pay the stipulated amounts of tithes. Some organisations asked members to bring their payslips and threatened with going to Hell if they were not faithful in paying their tithes). One had to pay for prayer when one had a sick loved one. There were demands for cuts of successful business deals which were prayed for. There was the blending between the religious leader’s “salary” and the religious organisation’s funds, the entrepreneurial religious organisations and the challenges of a “return on investment”, and a lack of effective financial management and good governance structures.

This was a challenge when someone started a church with their own money and treated the religious institution as an investment, therefore expecting to get something in return personally when the institution prospered financially. Another key finding was that the participation of women in these religious practices was quite alarming in terms of the ratio between men and women. There was more abuse and outrageous practices when there were more women than men. Thus there was a very serious gender bias in these institutions in terms of abuse and outrageous practices.

With regards to cult-like organisations such as “The Seven Angels”, children were not allowed to go to school, as the curriculum was labelled satanic. In these organisations, worshippers were asked to cash in their pensions, sell their property, hand over their cars and move into the religious organisation’s establishment to wait for the second coming. There were also claims of sighting of the Devil. When they started doing one of these things, they ended up doing more.

Regarding the unconventional preaching styles which these institutions practise, she said some religious leaders made their congregants eat grass or snakes, drink petrol or Dettol, poured hot water over the congregants’ hands, sprayed congregants with Doom, offered salvation through kissing, etc. There were also reports of religious leaders driving cars and trucks of over worshippers and putting worshippers in the deep freezer for up to an hour. There was lack of training, peer support, and understanding of legislation and legal procedures in the registration of religious institutions. There was a lack of a monitoring and a peer review mechanism, like in other professions such as doctors, lawyers, judges, social workers etc. If one was a stand-alone pastor and was not trained, there was no one to tell the pastor that what he was doing was not the way it should be done, because the pastor would ask, “whose church is this now?” This meant vulnerable people suffered even more.

Ms Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said that in this context, reason and science evaporated because there were some who claimed to talk to God directly on the phone. The leader would say “God said, and whatever God said must be done.”

The Commission had looked at many angles to solve these problems. The first one was that there must be compulsory registration of all religious practitioners in the country. The reasons for registration included having a register for all religious practitioners who were involved with all religions, it would assist in maintaining a database of religious practitioners and where they operated from, and to ensure that all religious practitioners were vetted against all relevant national registers, such as the child protection and sexual offences registers. She then went on to define worship centres like mosques, synagogues, churches, open field, riverside, school, conference centre, halls, home garage, cinema, classroom, temple etc, where people gather to express their religion. She said they listed these other non-conventional venues so that they could acknowledge all forms of worship, regardless of where they met to worship.

Based on the principle of freedom of association, umbrella organisations could register religious practitioners and their places of worship and submit this list to the CRL Rights Commission. They would develop a governance framework which would include a code of conduct, capacity building programmes and disciplinary procedures. Peer review committees would be composed of representatives from formally recognised umbrella organisations. Each peer review committee would be religion specific, that is, a committee for Christians, a committee for Rastafari, a committee for Muslims etc. The role of the peer review committee was to advise the Commission on matters that affected their particular religion and to advise it on the members of their specific religion, and who should be removed from the register after consultation with the relevant umbrella organisation.

Other roles included serving as an appeal structure in a case where one felt not very well treated by a particular umbrella organisation, to deal with complaints from members of their particular religion and to refer cases to the Commission on matters and resolutions they had taken about their religion. There was also a peer review council which was a stand-alone structure, not above another structure, but still under the CRL Rights Commission. This council consisted of proportionally elected members of each religion, and experts in all religions. Its main function would be to recognise new religions that were applying for recognition in the country. It would also help in resolving problems and disputes between religions. This council might meet only once in years.

She said she had noticed that intolerance was growing, especially in churches, where they said if one did not believe in what they believed in, they were not part of a true religion. She emphasised freedom of religion was important for the work of the CRL Commission, so it was important to protect new religions.

The CRLRC had spoken to the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) concerning foreign religious leaders who were applying for work permits. The DHA waived all requirements when foreign religious leaders applied for work permits, unlike foreign engineers, whose applications also had to go through the South African Engineering Council. The problem was the abuse of the visa application system by some foreign religious leaders. The DHA should ensure that the foreign religious leaders applying for a work permit should be based on a quota system, like they had for other professions, and they had to have a letter of recommendation from the CRLRC. Foreign religious leaders who applied to become marriage officers must also have a letter of recommendation from the Commission. This letter of recommendation would ensure that foreign religious leaders were part of an umbrella organisation and that they were monitored.

The Commission had also looked at the Department of Social Development (DSD), where churches were registered as non-profit organisations (NPOs). This brought many challenges, such as the lack of monitoring, so that when churches registered and disappeared, and did not come back to report, this was not recorded. Therefore the registration of religious institutions (places of worship) should be done by the CRLRC to ensure that all relevant laws, like municipal bylaws, were adhered to. An example would be a religious institution getting a building and putting thousands of people in there, but the rules of the municipality were not followed. What could happen if there was a fire and the building did not have emergency exits, people would die. When these religious institutions were registered through the DSD, those requirements were not checked.

The South African Revenue Service (SARS) also experienced challenges pertaining to tax evasion by some religious leaders and religious organisations. When the Commission had asked religious leaders about the selling of water and whether they were selling it as an NPO or as a business, the religious leaders answered that they never sold anything to anybody -- the R40 that they charged was actually a donation. SARS should do an in-depth investigation into tax evasion by some religious leaders and religious institutions, in partnership with the CRLRC.

There was a problem that a number of products/items were sold for religious, spiritual and traditional healing in the country. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), through their relevant entities and structures, had to ensure that severe action was taken against those persons and institutions involved in advertising substances that did not follow advertising standards. There were people who stopped going through medical healing processes such as chemotherapy for cancer and ARV’s for HIV/AIDS, because some religious leader had said “buy this water and your cancer/HIV will disappear.” The religious leaders would also have advertised the water and brought someone to testify that they had been healed of a certain sickness after buying the water.

The Commission’s recommendation to the DTI was that misleading adverts, testimonies, and miracles in print, broadcast, social media and online should be stopped. It also recommended that the registration of religious institutions should be moved from the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) to the CRL Rights Commission. It recommended the South African Police Service (SAPS) must enforce the law when complaints were lodged pertaining to religious practitioners, as it had found that there was a serious reluctance to act when there were complaints, because they were religious leaders. The CRLRC’s recommendations included the urgent need to amend the existing pieces of legislation in order to protect the congregants and believers. This was important --before there was a crisis in the country, before people began to die. Therefore, the recommendations needed to be implemented with speed.

Ms Mkhwanazi-Xaluva concluded that the CRLRC remained convinced that the proposals on the table would ensure that the doctrine of each religion was defended and protected. They would ensure that those who were abusing their members were removed from the system. Concerning the pastor using Doom on his congregants, an interdict had been obtained given to stop the pastor from spraying his congregants. As for the pastor who had given his members snakes to eat, the police had said there was nothing they could do, to the extent that it was SPCA that had laid charges against the pastor on behalf of the snakes. The laws were not effective and efficient. These proposals would ensure that the matters of each religion were dealt with by that particular religion, and not by the courts. They would ensure the right to freedom of religion.

Prof David Luka Mosoma, Deputy Chairperson: CRLRC said his role was to request the religious leaders that were present at the meeting to give testament of support for the work of the Commission, especially for the report that had been presented before them. He said he would start of by asking His Grace Bishop Lekganyane or his representative to come and give his message of support

Comments from religious leaders in attendance

Zion Christian Church

Bishop Barnabas Lekganyane said that they duly appreciated and embraced the work that this Commission was doing. He remembered when they had been invited for the very first time by the Commission to give a report about their church and their background. This process was long overdue, but there was always a right time to make amends. They saw the Commission as an eye opener, and said that it was not about the leaders of congregations, but how they led their congregations. It was important for a religious leader to understand his congregation and their life situations. In other words, if they were poor, they must be enriched, and if they were uneducated, the leader must educate them. He said that they were happy about the approach of this Commission and the meticulous work they were doing so that at the end of the day South Africans could remain proud as a nation. He also emphasised that the focus should not be on the religious leaders. but on their congregations.

National Council of Religious Leaders (NCRL)

Mr G Khoza, NCRL, said he thought it was fair to say this was a long process, and referred to the video clip that had been played at the beginning of the meeting, saying that it had begun with a lot of debates. The Commission had been very accommodative about the NCRL’s views and concerns. They would like to thank the Commission for taking into consideration their concerns and hoped that this would continue also in the future when they needed to raise more concerns. They were looking forward to giving more input and ensuring that the system cleansed itself. One of the ways it could do this was to protect doctrine, the separation of State and Church, and freedom of religion.

South African Union Council of Independent Churches (SAUCIC)

Bishop Dr Madire Shole, President: SAUCIC, said he stood as the president with about 3.6 million followers in six provinces in South Africa. This included church committees and structures, religious practitioners, the federation of interdenominational churches, and all provinces. They were attending the meeting in order to show support for the CRLRC. They had had some other members of the SAUCIC who had not been on the good side with the Commission during the tough times, and they could be seen in the video that had been played, but “everything was in order now.” People had seen a lot on television and in newspapers which had been embarrassing. They had seen a most respected pastor recruiting young girls in all his churches and sleeping with them. They had seen people in Gauteng, in Soshanguve, feeding people rats, drinking petrol and so on, but this had to come to a stop.

SAUCIC had told the CRLRC that matters had to be self-regulated, and they had started by screening pastors who were joining the Council and taking them through a course that lasted three to six months. They get to visit their churches and see their spiritual mothers and fathers. He said even if they had been ordained for ten years, “we start them afresh, we want them to be on the same par.” The requirement for any pastor was that they needed to have a minimum qualification to be able to understand doctrine, whether they were called or not. They had to be ordained and needed to have a constitution of the church, according to a worship centre. The Council assisted them free of charge to get this constitution and to register them with the DSD. In addition to this, they also put them on their database.

SAUCIC was also working with the government for the religious practitioners to be marriage officers, and this they were doing in conjunction with the DHA, which issued a licences. If there was any mischief or misconduct, they had to withdraw the licence so that they could not practice anywhere in South Africa. The DHA verified any criminal activity to ensure that this was a right and clear man of God.

He was in support of the CRLRC’s proposal, but would like to add another proposal. This was that all foreigners who had churches in South Africa must be integrated into the designated churches in their respective districts, because they came into South Africa with a visitor’s permit, not a work visa. These religious practitioners managed to find other dubious ways to obtain an extension of their stay in South Africa. He said that “the churches of such people must be closed! And only those who have citizenship should be allowed to continue with their churches.” They wanted to bring order and if they found people who had dubiously extended their stay in South Africa during their investigation, they would be sent back to their countries. Those who were not part of any peer review must join a peer review committee.

SAUCIC was bringing order to the country, and there would be no pastor threatening the CRL Commission Chairperson, there would be no one raping children and making the people participate in outrageous religious practices.

Church Leader Empowerment Foundation Africa (CLEFA).

Pastor Thiba Lejade, representative of CLEFA, said the Foundation was an umbrella body of Charismatic Movement Churches all over South Africa. Christianity represented about 80% of the population, which was way above the two-thirds majority needed by political parties to change the constitution. It was with this in mind that CLEFA felt Parliament could not operate and fulfil its constitutional mandate truly if it ignored the majority of the constituencies it sought to represent. CLEFA had been in consultation with the CRLRC, and it had not been the Commission that had called them instead. They had approached the CRLRC because they had seen that it was doing a great job and wanted to know how they could assist.

They were not proud, of course, of the other crazy individuals which they had seen in the video who were feeding people snakes and petrol. He commented that this was a fulfilment of scriptures in Matthew 25:4, where Jesus had said: “For many would come in my name saying I am the Christ and would deceive many.” Truly speaking, many had been deceived, but he wished to highlight that these people represented only a small fraction of the Christian population, because “bad news sells” and these dubious people were promoted more than the ones who were doing good things. There were different pastors, churches and church ministers out there, so it would be a great mistake to put all the pastors in one basket and judge them, like the few rotten ones they had seen. There were also bogus doctors, fake lawyers and corrupt politicians, but people still used the services of lawyers, doctors and, of course, the honourable politicians. It must also be noticed that there were strange practices in other religions as well -- they were not found only in Christianity -- so it was dangerous to focus all the attention on Christianity.

The Chairperson asked that those who would be giving input from the public to announce themselves, so they would be known to the meeting.

Freedom of Religion South Africa (FORSA)

Adv Nadine Badenhorst, Legal Counsel, FORSA, said the organisation had been engaged with hearings from the start and when the report had been first presented in February 2017, FORSA had sent a comprehensive submission of 67 pages to the CRLRC, dealing with the content of the report and the legal implications thereof. In that submission, FORSA was representing six million people in South Africa across fraternals, faith groups and churches. The submission was strongly opposed to the recommendations of the report.

The submission was that as FORSA, they shared the Commission’s concerns, but the video reel played at the workshop and recorded on social media did not represent the Jesus most South Africans believed in and worshipped. The incidents perpetrated in the name of religion had to be regarded as a threat to the freedom of religion.

The CRLRC had presented a number of laws that different pastors already complied with. Why had the Commission, after coming across blatant non-compliance with the law, not taken action to bring those matters to the relevant authorities? It was not correct to say that that the prophet who had sprayed people with insecticide could not be legally charged. Interrogating the order of the court that had been obtained, it had been based on the Harmful Substances Act, where it had been the Limpopo Department of Health (LDoH). There was nothing in the Constitution or the CRL Act that prohibited the Commission from protecting religious communities through the creation of an environment where religion could flourish, and it had been strongly silent on the latter issue.

What was being proposed was a broad scale regulation of religion in SA, and the compulsory licensing of all religious practitioners and all places of worship in SA was too much. The investigation had started with a handful of complaints about pastors who were practising religion in contravention of SA’s laws. From there, even the legally compliant and heavily regulated 98% of churches were to be licensed. All the laws where the Commission had found non-compliance, had their own remedies, apart from the regulation which was being proposed. She appealed that where there was non-compliance with a law, that law had to be enforced instead of creating another one. Another law was not advised, as who would finance it, and how would the structure that the Commission was proposing be capacitated?

There had been major objections and opposition to the process which had been followed, and the substance of the recommendations. The process that the CRL Commission had followed had been flawed -- it was open to judicial review and it had been unscientific. When the complaints had been lodged, the Commission had decided to do a full scale investigation into what it had called the ‘Commercialisation of Religion and Abuse of People’s Belief Systems’. The Commission had then subpoenaed 85 religious and African traditional leaders. Though that was within the rights of the Commission, the religious community had found that to be the first act of hostility towards it by the Commission because the summons had been followed by cross examination into a wide range of issues, from bank statements, training and ordainment certificates, and statements of faith and other matters. A random sample of 85 religious and traditional leaders out of an entire prospectus of religious leaders in SA had been summoned.  Nowhere in the summons had it been clarified to those religious leaders that the outcome of the process could potentially be the compulsory licensing of all religious practitioners and places of worship in SA. Therefore there had been a disconnect between what the religious practitioners had been asked and what was being proposed to the Committee of Parliament on the day. The religious sector in SA had not been broadly consulted, and though the 85 interviews could have been sufficient to get a feel for what was out there in the religious landscape, it was not sufficient a process if the proposition was compulsory licensing of all religious practitioners and places of worship.

On content, FORSA regarded the proposal as unnecessary, unworkable and unconstitutional. Unnecessary because of the reasons already given -- that there were remedial actions for all the complaints that the CRL Commission had investigated and as the LDoH had done, and with the arrest of Prophet Timothy Omotoso on charges of sexual molestation the Commission could have gone to the authorities with its findings instead of the proposal it was making. The Commission was not above the law; it had to work within the constitution and within the framework of case law which had been laid down by the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) and other courts. For instance, what did the guarantee by the constitution that all citizens had freedom of religion really mean? In the case of Prince v President of the Law Society of the Cape of Good Hope (CCT36/00) [2002] ZACC 1; 2002 (2) SA 794; 2002 (3) BCLR 231 (25 January 2002), the court had said that freedom of religion meant that people had to be free to believe, even if the belief was bizarre, illogical or irrational. It was not the place of the CRLRC to say how religion should be practised, except when there was harm and criminal activities were taking place, and the law would have to take its course in such instances.

The elaborate structure which Ms Mkhwanazi-Xaluva had presented was unworkable because even within Christianity alone, there were multiple strings from Methodists, Baptists, the reformed churches and so on. Who would then be representing all those strings on the peer review committee? Effectively, a Methodist would judge the doctrine and practices of a Baptist or a reformed person over a charismatic. Even if compulsory licensing were to be put in place, would that stop those who had been complained about if they regarded themselves accountable only to God? Existing laws would still need to be applied if people continued feeding snakes to others and spraying others with insecticides.

While Christianity could have been the focus of the investigation, peer review structures were being proposed for any other faith in SA, including African traditional spirituality. How would that work?

Lastly, the proposal was unconstitutional because page 48 of the report said that the CRLRC would be the top body and the final arbiter on all matters of religion in SA. Indeed, the Commission was an institution of the state and if it had the power to issue and revoke licences, that was not self regulation. What it had been attempting was a power grab by a Chapter Nine institution, and much had been said in the press about Chapter Nine institutions over-reaching in the weeks up to the tabling of the CRLRC’s report to Parliament. The proposal by the CRLRC would require a constitutional amendment. It was an advisory body and therefore had no executive power to issue licenses. It could maintain a database of religious practitioners and where their worship houses were, as part of its mandate as per its establishing Act. Currently ,churches were before government commissions and courts because of their biblical doctrine, where some practices were regarded as hate speech.

The right of freedom of association also meant the right to exercise a choice not to associate and not to have to belong to one body or another, which was guaranteed by the constitution of SA. The fact that the Commission’s proposal said that no one would be allowed to not belong was a clear breach of freedom of association.

Although it was against the abuses, FORSA was not in favour of the proposal by the Commission as it was, but would continue working with it to find better ways of dealing with the abuses that it had investigated.

The CRL could educate congregants about their rights, and could prepare pro-forma constitutions and statements of faith, as churches and religious communities had to have those, whatever their structures were. They also had to have memorandums of incorporation, as legally required. A rapid response unit could be established within the CRLRC to follow-up complaints as they were being received. Finally, it could convene a consultative process of churches and religious groups in SA where the commercialisation of religion and abuse of peoples’ belief systems could be thoroughly discussed. The South African Charter for Religious Rights and Freedoms -- a document agreed to by 22 million believers in SA -- provided a platform for the creation of a code of ethics to which pastors could adhere and agree to.

Ubizo Initiative-World Gospel Powerhouse

Bishop Sikhumbuzo Mathabela, Director, Ubizo Initiative-World Gospel Powerhouse, said they had recently held a conference in Durban with all religious leaders in that city. Ms Mkhwanazi-Xaluva had been in attendance and had engaged the leaders there. New independent churches were emerging in the black townships because young male and female pastors were not being given preaching opportunities in the traditional and known churches like the Methodists and Catholics. There were tendencies that had crept in as malpractices in the evangelism of these pastors. In his view, some of those young pastors had started preaching because of the challenges of income, though they were anointed. Therefore it was natural for them to want to attach monetary value to their ministries if their prayers and worship bettered the lives of the people they ministered to.

Ubizo wanted to build a bridge between the young pastors and the established religious formations, because most of those young ministers had no issues with being interrogated about their ministries in terms of the licensing that the CRLRC was proposing. However; he agreed that there needed to be regulation that would deal with the malpractices in the Christian sector in the townships, as the malpractices worked against the young pastors. Each time a young pastor setup a tent to minister, there had emerged a perception which said, ‘here come these tent pastors who make congregants eat rats‘. Ubizo currently rolled out programmes to train young ministers and capacitate independent churches to align with proper structures. There were issues of discipline, and where a young minister, though gifted, would start including things which had no biblical reference, Ubizo agreed they needed guidance because in such instances there would be no one guiding the pastor, and everyone would be suspicious of him.

He appreciated the work of the CRLRC, as he had come to see the need for regulation, though originally he had been against the hearings. Furthermore, religious practitioners were not only preachers, but included gospel musicians and film-makers as well. The licensing of ministers would only have an unintended consequence, which could create more problems in the black religious sector. At its last engagement with the CRLRC, uBizo had made recommendations. Not all independent churches led by young pastors were making money, and not all of them were abusing congregants. Most of them were doing real work without land or space to minister, and therefore churches ended up abusing classrooms at schools. The plea was that they needed information and training, because these young pastors could not even put together a pro forma proposal for funding anywhere. In that environment, what eventually happened was that the young pastors would put up a shack somewhere which would be untested for safety and would not be serviced. Those things were not done out of malice, but because of a lack of knowledge and opportunities. Ubizo had also recommended that information be made available about unused public spaces, and that the Commission should conduct more hearings to change the hostile perception the young pastors had about it.

Bishop Mathabela said that Ms Mkhwanazi-Xaluva had noted the fact that when young pastors started their independent churches, they used their own money, and this was because the young pastors believed in their calling. They did invest their own money, not necessarily expecting a return but because the calling persuaded the young to establish churches. Because there was a limitation on resources immediately, a young pastor would label bottled water with his image and sell it so he could raise enough money to continue his ministry. If that was commercialising Christianity, the interrogator also consider had to the reason behind the sale of bottled water.

As a recommendation, the CRLRC could have within its satellite offices qualified bookkeepers, paralegals and tax officials who would assist young pastors in setting up their churches properly and legally, so that they could report properly. The work of the CRLRC would enable young pastors to change practices and to minister in a way that was not abusive to congregants, but it also had to be accommodating and not be hostile.

He said young pastors had no salary, provident fund, medical aid, housing or vehicle allowance, so when it happened that a particular pastor could convince his congregation to buy him a vehicle and beautiful home, this would then be posted on social media sites with the perception that said pastor was blessed. Most other young pastors would also want that, and congregants would probably flock to someone perceived as being a powerful pastor. That was a reality. Ubizo wanted the CRLRC to dig a little deeper to see the sacrifices young ministers made, so that a bridge could be constructed between the independent churches and the established traditionally big churches. 

South African Union Council of Independent Churches (SAUCIC)             

Pastor Robert, South African Union Council of Independent Churches (SAUCIC), Western Cape, said he had been trained at the bible school of the Assemblies of God and at that school one attended not to be a pastor but to know the Bible. After graduating from that Bible school, one would be placed under a pastor that led a church so that one grew to become a pastor from experience, and having had guidance. There was good from the CRLRC report and also from the comments that had been made at the workshop. As his background had been in insurance finance, at the age of 65 years there could be no temptation for him to minister, expecting to be bought beautiful vehicles.

Bishop Dr Modire Shope, President, SAUCIC, said that the Council had invited the Deputy Minister of Justice, Mr John Jeffrey, to clarify the issue of hate speech. The Deputy Minister had explained that any member of the Christian faith who preached something referencing scripture could not be found guilty of hate speech. Only if the sermon was about discrediting religions other than Christianity, would hate speech be a verdict.

As there were laws already in place, and the report had been tabled to the committees, it was for the committees and the CRLRC to interpret and to then educate congregants about their rights in terms of freedom of religion and that of association. Not everyone would be comfortable with the outcomes from the CRLRC report, and whatever would follow from then on. As Bishop Mathabela had said, young preachers would watch on television a bishop ministering and delivering congregants and would also want to do the same, but without going to Bible school and having had no spiritual mother or father. SAUCIC wanted that stopped, in agreement with the CRLRC, as that would harm people. However, SAUCIC had already started assisting such young pastors with large congregations.

There had to be a database for churches so that monitoring could be effective, as some churches were fronts and drug dens. How else could one explain a pastor, with no more than 10 members of the church, driving a saloon vehicle? It was by ordaining un-ordained pastors and partnering with the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) to get pastors trained as marriage officials. There was a perception that one could establish a church to make money and when being called to order, such ministers’ responses would be that they had a calling they had inherited from their father. SAUCIC supported the report of the CRLRC, as it would help the independent churches to organise.

Pastor Robert said that one query was that the powers of the CRLRC had to be defined in the structure it was proposing. They had also raised the issue of the Commission overreaching in respect of intruding on doctrinal matters. Separation of the state from religion, the autonomy of the church and protection of the freedom of speech, had been issues raised by SAUCIC.

Ms C Dudley (ACDP) said from what she had heard, the presentation of the report was a first step in the right direction and she hoped that the proceedings would break up with everyone understanding what the process would be going forward.

Ms P Bhengu (ANC) said that there seemed to have been no female ministers that had appeared or had been part of the investigation, even to the extent that there were none present at the workshop. Had the CRLRC communicated its views to the congregants, especially those who were opposed to its work? She invited the Commission to express an opinion on women in churches as congregants, as they were the victims of being sprayed with insecticides and were not knowledgeable about their rights. Additionally, could the CRLRC give a view on the undermining of disabled persons in churches, as they were used as ‘wonders’ where churches ministered healing works on them? Had the CRLRC looked into the discriminatory sermons, where pastors preached in a derogatory manner about the disabled?

Ms M Khawula (EFF) said she was grateful for the work the CRLRC had accomplished. The Committee on Women in the Presidency understood the many challenges women faced out there. Most painful of all was the high school children at a school near where she lived, who had already started dropping out of school, while others who remained in schools were being affected by Satanist cults. She was not saying that foreign nationals had to be banned from SA, but what was it that made them leave their own countries and come to SA to establish churches which destroyed people’s indigenous cultures, replacing them with whatever doctrine? Those particular ministers had to be the target of the security apparatus, because no one could have said to foreign pastors that South Africans were non-believers, as there were many indigenous cultural faiths and established traditional churches in SA.

The Committee supported the CRLRC because even though there were those who had threatened the chairperson of the Commission, the EFF would protect her. Indeed sometimes one could find would-be pastors selling drugs in the city’s charismatic, independent and newly established churches. South Africans also had to question themselves about why a foreign national would come into their country and instruct them to stop worshipping in one way and worship in another. Women and children were currently being killed for their body parts and there were abortion advertisements in all the public transport depots, and in trains and other public transport. It was not necessary for foreign pastors to be included in the structure that the CRLRC was proposing because they were cruel, and had to go back to their home countries. Ward councillors and traditional leaders had to know all the churches in their wards, and the Commission had to include them in its proposal. 

Ms C Majeke (UDM) said that before the Christian religion arrived in SA, families had cultural indigenous ways of worship. The CRLRC was a Chapter Nine institution and was empowered to organise proper structures for disorganised bodies of faith, and if there was to be a threat against it, the Commission had to go ahead because it had to protect the rights of South Africans from abuse, as many children were no longer going to school because of the charismatic churches which had just been established recently.

Mr K Mileham (DA) said he was concerned about some of the comments made which had bordered on being xenophobic. The Chairperson had to regulate the proceedings, as some of the comments were out of order.

One of the primary purposes of the report was to identify the causes underlying the commercialisation of religion and traditional healing. However, the report had been very emphatic on the process and very lean on findings. There were only two pages on findings, and nothing therein spoke to the commercialisation of religion or the causes of commercialisation. Instead, a lot had been said about the effects of the commercialisation of religion.

Section 185 2 (b) of the Constitution stated that the powers of the Commission were to monitor, investigate, research, educate, lobby, advise, report and recommend. Where in the SA constitution was it given the right to regulate, administer or organise religion? The CRLRC seemed to have been established as an advisory, rather than an interventionist, body.  Apart from maintaining a database, which was a list, what gave the Commission the authority to issue licences for the practice of a particular faith group?

Ms Mkhwanazi-Xaluva had commented that doctrine had to be protected by the practitioners of a particular religion. However, the ConCourt in De Lange v Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa for the time being and Another (CCT223/14) [2015] ZACC 35; 2016 (1) BCLR 1 (CC); 2016 (2) SA 1 (CC) (24 November 2015), had held that it was not prepared to get involved in doctrinal debates nor involve the state in such debates. If the ConCourt was not prepared to get involved or involve the state in doctrinal matters, why would the CRLRC want to get involved in such matters and have the power to appoint a peer review council?

There had been a bishop who had commented that it could not be doctrine to feed a congregant something, but in fact it was doctrine to give a congregant a piece of bread and wine, saying that those were the body of Christ. How different were the two cases?

There had been a number of ConCourt cases where the court had defined freedom to believe as a right to entertain, such as those a person chose to believe in. Furthermore, any person had the right to declare their religious beliefs openly without any fear of hindrance or reprisal and a right to manifest religious beliefs by worship and practice.

Mr Mileham wanted some explanation from the Commission as to how it had arrived at its proposals in view of what was already in case law and the constitution. Legal precedent had held that where an individual voluntarily entered into an action, the other party could not be held liable for that action unless it had been criminal. Therefore if he agreed that cold water could be poured over himself, that had been consent. A lot of what the congregants on the video had done -- from eating grass to drinking petrol -- they had done having given consent. What was the CRLRC’s view on consent and voluntary participation by congregants?

The chairperson said the workshop was for the views to be expressed of those who were not Members of Parliament, as Parliament would still debate the issues at the committee level before the report was tabled to the House.

Mr E Mthethwa (ANC) asked if those that had threatened the commissioners had had charges laid against them, and whether the Commission had tried further engagements with those religious leaders who had refused to participate in the investigations, or was there still a stalemate on the matter?

Mr J Dube (ANC) said that factually, the Christian religion was divided according to racial lines. Poverty, unemployment and inequality affected black Africans in particular, and they were the majority of the SA population, so the government could not simply fold its arms and watch people being fed snakes. There was also a need to delineate between traditional healers and pastors, and the CRLRC had to also give the Committee the views of those leaders of society. Constitutionally, SA had eleven official languages, and possibly the Commission had to give those indigenous religious leaders who spoke in the vernacular an opportunity to give their views on the subject of the report.

The commissioners also had to have security in future as the CRLRC was going about its work, as there was a risk, judging from the video which had been played. Blaming foreign ministers for some of the abuses which had been seen on the video would not assist anyone, and the best action was for section 184, 2 (d) to be implemented more emphatically.

The Chairperson said there still remained a lot of work to be done, as the workshop seemed to be going off at a tangent from time to time. After the report had been tabled, the committees would still engage on it.

UNISA Centre for African Renaissance Studies

Professor Shadrack Gutto, Director: Centre for African Renaissance Studies at UNISA, said that there were many ConCourt rulings, followed by multiple opinions with which he disagreed, on the issue of the CRLRC’s proposal being unconstitutional. The fact there were opposing opinions about the proposal need not deter government from moving forward, as he had already indicated that there were processes that could be followed. Freedom of association was not being interfered with in the proposal, as freedom to form, join and maintain religious association and other organs of civil society were all provided for in section 31. 1 (b) of the constitution. He had mentioned that there was confusion about sections 15 and 31 of the constitution, the latter of which dealt with already formed and registered religious groups which had been registered either as either non-profit organisations (NPOs) or trusts. Therefore it was not a question of such formations having to submit information for data capturing on to a database. Section 185.4 of the constitution made it clear that additional powers or responsibility could be prescribed by national legislation. Read with the CRL Act, 2002, it had been clearly prescribed that the Commission had the powers to summons for investigations, which was not something being newly practised in 2016/17.

On the question of culture and language options, there had been a deliberate decision to focus only on religion for the first investigative report, but going forward others would accommodate those. 

The Commission was not against the issue of refining its powers, as Parliament was the body to look at that.

The comment attributed to Deputy Minister of Justice Jeffrey, that no one could be liable for hate speech was also not correct, as section 16. 2 (c) of the constitution had been clear that advocacy of hatred which was based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and which constituted incitement to cause harm, was excluded from freedom of expression.

Christian religion had already been commercialised, since most traditional churches during colonialism had been given expropriated land without compensation. They were already land owners. It could be pretended that there were new dimensions to commercialisation of religion, but commercialisation had always been there. For example, in Zimbabwe the biggest land owner was the Roman Catholic Church, and certainly some parts of SA were similar.

CRLRC’s Response

Ms Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said what the CRLRC meant by ‘doctrine being defended by those who practised it,’ had been that Christians themselves had to defend their doctrine. As the Commission had said, it was not dealing with doctrine, but with practitioners, and was doing something to resolve a particular problem, as it was not biblical. It was for a particular minister to explain why he/she would sell things to congregants as part of their gospel. The issue that was being addressed was the sale of objects was so that they could make a profit, and why when religion was a sacrificial and servitude cause, others wanted to make money out of it.

As far as the issue of consent was concerned, that was what the CRLRC had been struggling with, because congregants would tell the SAPS that they would defend their religious leader, as they had given consent. Therefore the conventional processing of a criminal offence was not useful, because in the cases showed to the committee, the victims participated willingly in the act for reasons of faith and hope for a better life. Difficult situations called for difficult proposals all the time, as the situation had to be resolved.

Cases had been opened against those who had threatened the Commission, and one case had been successful because one individual had written and signed off their name and mobile number on the threatening letter. The individual was currently serving a three year sentence in jail. However, there were bishops with whom the CRLRC had found common ground after some discussions, but prophet Samuel Radebe, of the Revelation Church of God, and Prophet Paseka “Mboro” Motsoeneng had totally refused mediation.

The issue of traditional healers and advertising that they could help people win the lottery using traditional medicine, was something that the Commission was busy with, as South African traditional healers had complained that traditional healers from outside the country were the ones promising people fantasies. Indeed, after investigating some complaints in that regard, the CRLRC had recommended that the matter of advertising had to be probed because in poverty, when someone advertised that one could win the lottery, all reasoning ceased.

The Commission always had interpreters, even for sign language, when meeting with communities.

Professor Mosoma said the issue of consent was difficult, in that the person who gave consent had perceived a promise of what would be derived from the action. If consent was viewed in isolation, the point would be missed, as knowledge and ignorance played a pivotal role. There was no way someone knowledgeable about issues of faith could be equated with a congregant follower, because the disparity in the quality of their understanding created two levels of individuals. One would be a follower of someone dictating that a particular outcome would result. Even if the outcome had not been what the follower had perceived, there was no recourse eventually. Primacy of reason had been what the enlightenment had been all about.

The Chairperson agreed that there would be no easy answers, and that the State had a responsibility to protect the vulnerable in society, especially when there was indoctrination. The committees appreciated all the submissions from the religious leaders, research houses and all legal experts that had attended the workshop. He thanked colleagues from other committees who had honoured the invitation to the workshop. The workshop had provided an update and introduction of the report, but Parliament would process the report after the recess, and the committee would certainly do oversight as well.

The meeting was adjourned.

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