The Portfolio Committee convened an Indaba to address harmful religious practices. It also heard a verbal submission from a trade union regarding the effect on labour of the Municipal Systems Amendment Bill.
The SA Municipal Workers Union said the amendment as it stood had two areas of concerns -- the restrictions on the holding of political office, as well as the effect on the collective bargaining agreement. The union questioned why someone in the public service would be barred from holding political office. This was prejudicial to municipal workers, as it applied only to them. The state should not be used to suppress political rights.
The oganisations from the religious sector were invited to make submissions before the Committee in order to determine what role they could play in curbing the social ills currently plaguing society. The Indaba was a build-up towards a colloquium on harmful religious practices. The religious organisations responded to questions that had been sent out by the Committee. These questions were informed by a process initiated by the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Religious and Linguistic Community Rights after it had received complaints from communities about harmful practices perpetrated by religious leaders.
Some of the organisations agreed that the religious sector was in need of regulation and a voluntary non-binding code of conduct. Others expressed concern about the involvement of the state in issue of faith. They felt the religious sector was equipped to regulate itself. There was a view that the removal of morning prayers and devotions from schools had been a contributing factor to moral decay. There was a also a suggestion that some religious leaders/practitioners needed further training and education in order to help them carry out their duties in a professional manner.
There was near-consensus among the organisations that there was no need for additional regulation, but rather effective application of existing laws. An underlying issue was the inequality in society, and this could be remedied by economic transformation.
Members wanted to know what the religious sector was doing to combat social ills. Why did it seem like the church was no longer at the forefront when it came to issues affecting society? What role, if any, could state organs play in addressing harmful religious practices?
Municipal Systems Amendment Bill Stakeholder engagement
The South African Municipal Worker’s Union (SAMWU) submitted a verbal submission to the Committee on how the Municipal Systems Amendment Bill would affect municipal workers. The amendment as it stood had two areas of concerns -- the restrictions on the holding of political office, as well as the effect on the collective bargaining agreement. The union questioned why someone in the public service would be barred from holding political office. This was prejudicial to municipal workers, as it applied only to them. The state should not be used to suppress political rights.
SAMWU also contended that the amendment gave the Minister powers to determine conditions of service, salaries and wages of workers, rendering the Bargaining Council obsolete. The amendment undermined worker’s rights, collapsed the South African Local Government Association (SALGA), and concentrated too much power in the Office of the Minister.
Ms P Xaba-Ntshaba (ANC) wanted to know what SAMWU proposed as a solution to some of the issues they had raised.
Indaba on Harmful Religious Practices
The Chairperson requested Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana: Secretary General: South African Council of Churches (SACC), to open the meeting with a prayer. The bishop said a brief prayer, and the meeting commenced.
The Chairperson said the meeting was in preparation for the upcoming colloquium on Harmful Religious Practices. The meeting was necessary, because some of the recommendations in the Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Commission report called for consultation with religious bodies, and explored the possibility of regulation either by the state, or self-regulation.
It seemed that the church had taken a back seat when it came to tackling social issues. Why was this the case? She he remembered a time when the church was at the forefront of advocating moral integrity. The South African Religious Forum had received more time, because they had helped to initiate the Indaba.
From where she was sitting, it seemed that the church was no longer the leader of society. The church needed to know that they were responsible for the curbing of moral decay and the promotion of moral regeneration.
South African Religious Forum
Bishop Selven Govender, President: South African Religious Forum (SARF), said the Forum was an interfaith organisation, and was present to answer the questions that had been circulated.
The Chairperson of the SARF Free State chapter answered the first round of questions.
The first question asked was what, in the organisation’s view, were harmful religious practices. He said this happened when a religious leader ignored a person’s dignity.
The second question was about the strengths and pitfalls of the religious sector. He replied that a lot of religious leaders were not trained, and were too sympathetic to the country’s business and political leaders. He recommended that religious leaders be compelled to attain a qualification. However, there was also the problem of honorary degrees and doctorates that were bestowed on religious leaders, even those who did not have a matric qualification.
Bishop Blessing Mbuyazi was asked what SARF could do to sanction individuals perpetrating harmful religious practices. He said the organisation had a code of conduct that was enforced if a person breached it. This would be done in accordance with the individual’s faith.
A SARF member responded to a question related to the feasibility and practicality of a voluntary and non-binding code of conduct. He said that the code of conduct needed to be binding, because if it was non-binding, people would not adhere to it.
Prophetess Masibi, Deputy Secretary-General: SARF, responded to the question of whether or not the conduct of religious practitioners should be regulated. She said SARF was in favour of regulation, but the regulation needed to be done by someone who understood the religious code of conduct.
Pastor Eloise Rossouw, Chairperson: SARF Western Cape, was asked if such regulation would not amount to violation of the practitioners’ right to exercise their religious rights without inhibition. She said there would be no violation, as the regulation would be there to ensure that the religious practitioner was held responsible for harmful religious practices. She also answered a question about the role of churches in addressing social ills and moral decay, asserting that the role of the churches had been overtaken by political interference and religious malpractice. She said that churches needed to be given back their voices.
Bishop Masondo, Deputy Chairperson: SARF Gauteng, commented on the question related to the church no longer being at the forefront of upholding moral integrity in society. He said the church could no longer be at the forefront, because South Africa had been declared a secular state in 1994. This had led to the abolition of morning prayers and devotions from schools, leading to moral decay. The blame should be put on the government for removing these rituals.
Bishop Mbuyazi responded to the question, what was the religious sector doing to address social ills? He said SARF had a lot of portfolios that handled issues as they arose.
Bishop Chauke, General Secretary: SARF, answered the question about international best practices when it came to addressing harmful religious practices. He said South Africa was bound by United Nations standards, and it was the same for the religious sector.
South African Council of Churches
Bishop Mpumlwana gave a brief overview of the SACC, and introduced Bishop Ezekiel Mathole from Grace Bible Church, who would respond to some questions.
Bishop Mathole said the state should focus on applying existing laws instead of adding new ones. The SACC was aware that people who ended up getting trapped in religious abuse were usually genuinely in pursuit of a miracle, as promised by the practitioner. The SACC saw value in the public broadcaster making space for public education. The focus of the education should be on religious rights and responsibilities.
He said the religious sector needed to self-regulate, with sound ministerial ethical codes of accountability, proper training, and recognition of the religious practitioner as per the protocols of his/her faith.
Bishop Mpumlwana said that the SACC viewed any act that harmed the individual’s God-given dignity as a harmful religious practice. The Council holds affiliated members accountable for their conduct. He did not think a code of conduct was practical or feasible, due to the complexity of the religious sector. It might be helpful for each registered entity to demonstrate that it did have internal systems to deal with abuses.
He said society placed much responsibility on the church to address social ills, because this used to be the case in the past. This was no longer the case, as both home and school had less of a religious foundation. However, the SACC and other reputable organisations would work hard to address the country’s social ills, and believed that ideal livable conditions in South Africa included economic transformation, comprehensive quality education, and healing and reconciliation. He added that it would be impossible for the SACC to speak on behalf of the entire religious sector.
South African Union Council of Independent Churches (SAUCIC)
Bishop Modiri Shole, Chairperson: SAUCIC, said the main issue at hand was that there was currently a spiritual battle that was raging. Most people were members of cults and had been brainwashed into doing bad things. Those that used muthi and were sangomas needed to know that they were in opposition of the Gospel. SAUCIC supported the drafting of a code of conduct for religious practitioners. Religious leaders needed to be proactive and approach politicians with proposed solutions to problems. He advocated the registration of churches so that it would be easier to identify those that were non-compliant.
Ms M Tlou (ANC) said the code of conduct should be applied to all churches in South Africa. She recommended re-introducing morning prayer in schools. She wanted to know about the integration of indigenous churches.
Mr K Ceza (EFF) wanted clarity on the ‘mainline’ churches and indigenous churches. How genuine was the unity?
Ms M Sukers (ACDP) wanted to know what impact legislation had on how the churches operated. What could the government do to help the church? She asked the SACC how a church was defined. What was the definition of the occult? How did all these things impact society?
Inkosi B Luthuli (IFP) wanted to know how churches were registered, if it was so easy for illegal churches to be registered. What was being done about the churches run by foreign nationals that were not properly registered?
Mr V Zungula (ATM) wanted clarity on why all faiths were not represented. What kind of qualification would qualify a religious leader? Had the church reached out to the Department of Basic Education regarding phony qualifications? He wanted to know if there was a bias towards the SACC in government which resulted in the organisation having disproportionate access and support from the state.
Ms G Opperman (DA) said this meeting should have been a joint sitting. Additional laws would be a burden -- the existing laws should be applied more effectively. If citizens needed protection from their own gullibility and this necessitated regulation, what about the state lottery, gambling and casinos?
Mr C Brink (DA) said that the state and the religious organisations needed to be aware of the separation of state and church, which was there for the safeguarding of the state from religious manipulation, as well as safeguarding the religious establishment from political interference.
Ms M Kibi (ANC) said that the religious leaders present should not deflect the issue towards sangomas. She wanted to know where the religious leaders had been when students were being arrested while demonstrating for free education. She wanted to know how the religious leaders could allow a situation where children were being taught sex education from grade 1. She asked them to separate themselves from political parties. Why were the religious leaders quiet when wrongdoers were perpetrating harmful practices?
Mr G Mpumza (ANC) asked if religion could be faith-neutral or doctrine-neutral. To what extent were the state and religion complementing each other?
Bishop Mpumlwana said the SACC was already assisting students in KwaZulu-Natal. They had also reached out to a pastor who was allegedly perpetrating harmful religious practices, but they did not have powers to compel anyone to heed their advice. That was why it was very important to enforce existing laws. With regard to the SACC receiving disproportionate access and support, he said this was simply untrue. The SACC had not received a cent from the government. The SACC had fought against apartheid for the benefit of all, and was not allied to any party. It had chosen to walk a path of social justice, and would not abandon anyone who chose to walk the same path. The Council could not afford to be partisan because the congregants belonged to different political parties. He said that the SACC also went to indigenous churches to offer their assistance.
Bishop Mathole said the church participated in education as far as the law allowed. There was no generic definition of what a church was, but a church would be an entity which followed Christ, and had its own theology and history. A universal definition was difficult, however, because the church had its own complexities. Society needed to work hand in hand with the church to address social ills. When it came to defining credentials, it became difficult because religious leadership was a calling.
Archbishop Shole said the church should play a leadership role in most aspects of society. The leadership had to be orderly, and this was why it was necessary for it be registered. This would allow religious organisations to play a role alongside the government.
Bishop Govender said SARF believed that religious leadership was a calling, but this had to be aided by education and training. SARF was not qualified to issue certificates of ministry. The lack of education in the religious sector was the root cause of most of the issues within the sector and society. SARF supported the formation of inter-faith bodies, as it broadened the diversity of views and opinions. The main issue was the application of a code of conduct.
Bishop Msomi said he was both a sangoma and a Christian bishop. He was an African. The underlying issue was the lack of ownership and exclusion from the economy. Churches had to respond to the needs of the communities they were in. They should go back to the basics and deal with the township economies in order to effectively address social ills.
South African Council for the Protection of Religious Rights and Freedoms
Prof Rassie Malherbe, Adviser to the South African Council for the Protection of Religious Rights and Freedoms, presented a draft code of conduct for the religious sector. He conceded that most churches already had a code of conduct but this one took the complexity of the sector into account. He said there was no way of compelling religious organisations to adopt the code of conduct as it was, but it was a starting point.
International Institute of Religious Freedom
Dr Christof Sauer, Executive Manager: International Institute of Religious Freedom, also presented a proposed Charter of Religious Rights and Freedoms. He noted that most issues arose from differing terminology and narratives among the religious bodies, but there was ample space for collaboration. He said the proposed code of conduct contained language that was inclusive so that religious practitioners could interact with it.
Council of Charismatic Churches
Mr Lucas Nkosi, Deputy Chairperson: Council of Charismatic Churches, said the biggest issue was standardisation. How would a qualification for religious leadership be standardised to ensure fairness across the entire religious sector? He also said the media was biased against the religious sector. There was a need to decolonise the issue of training and education in the religious sector. How did one standardise and regulate the Holy Spirit?
Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches
Reverend Sibanda, from the Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches, said that the best way to address the issues within the sector was to ensure professionalism among religious leaders when they carried out their duties. This did not necessarily mean a formal qualification, but rather a way of doing things that ensured practitioners stayed within the confines of decency and the law.
Anti-Regulation of Religion Summit
Dr Shimmy Kotu, of the Anti-Regulation of Religion Summit, said that he agreed with Dr Sauer that they were using terminology that they did not fully understand. For example, he understood foreign churches to mean European, whereas someone across the aisle would believe the term referred to churches run by Nigerian nationals. He said the CRL Commission’s process was flawed from the outset, and could not yield the desired outcome. The current issues were because people were moving away from the Biblical definition of what a church was, and were trusting the state to define the church. He pointed out that a small minority was perpetrating harmful practices, but their conduct was being used to condemn an entire sector. It was shocking to hear religious leaders agreeing to regulation by the state, when the state could barely keep its own enterprise in order.
Mr Zungula said the issue was that Parliament was asking the religious leaders to exercise an authority that they did not have. What recourse did these organisations have if churches chose not to comply with the code of conduct, or any of their recommendations?
The Chairperson thanked everyone for their inputs, and opened the floor for anyone who had anything to contribute in terms of a way forward.
Further comments and proposals
Pastor Richard Khanyile, Deputy Secretary: Gauteng SARF, said they recommended regulation of religion by a body comprising of all faiths. He also said that churches run by foreign nationals needed to be controlled.
An individual from Khayelitsha said it very bizarre to hear followers of Jesus calling for the government to regulate the church, instead of calling for the church to pull together and self-regulate. He quoted from the Bible to illustrate his points.
Pastor Emma Nyawula, Secretary: Mpumalanga SARF, said she had a problem with the policy on comprehensive sexual education. She asked if Parliamentarians and the Cabinet worked together, because it does not appear that way.
Reverend Buntu Nxumalo, from KZN SARF, said the religious sector was being reactive instead of proactive. He suggested that more research needed to be done on how the religious sector could improve.
Dr Kotu said this Committee had already rejected the CRL Commission’s report because it was unworkable. It was not possible for an inter-faith organization to convene over Christian affairs, because this would represent the birth of a new religion in which none of the participants could practice their own religions in that context.
The Chairperson said that the Committee did not reject the entire report, but rather some of the recommendations.
She thanked everyone for their patience and contributions, and adjourned the meeting.
- Local Government: Municipal Systems Amendment Bill: stakeholder engagement; Indaba on harmful religious practices 2
- Local Government: Municipal Systems Amendment Bill: stakeholder engagement; Indaba on harmful religious practices 3
- Local Government: Municipal Systems Amendment Bill: stakeholder engagement; Indaba on harmful religious practices 1
- South African Council of Churches submission
- South African Institute for Professional Pastors, Reverends and Ministers "SAIPPREM" submission
- Reconciliation Church of Christ in Zion submission
- Mount Olives Ministries submission
- Institute for Religious Freedom submission
- Concerned Clergy Western Cape (CCWC) submission
- African Transformation Movement (ATM) submission
- Anti-Regulation of Religion Summit submission
- Association of Christian Religious Practitioners (“ACRP”) submission
- IDAMASA Submission
- The South African Law Journal Vol 136 Part 1 2019
- Christof Sauer: Safeguarding Freedom of Religion or Belief
- International Institute for Religious Freedom: A Request for oral presentation
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