Gerber’s Legislative Proposal to Repeal Church Acts: Hearings Re Dutch Reformed Church Union Act, Apostolic Faith Mission of Sou

Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

09 November 2007

Acting Chairperson:
Mr S Mshudulu (ANC)

Relevant Documents:
Presentation of the Dutch Reformed Church regarding the Dutch Reformed Churches Union Repeal Bill

Audio recording of meeting

The Dutch Reformed Church addressed the Committee on Mr Gerber’s proposal to repeal certain church Acts that directly affected it. Although there was general support the Church indicated that a repeal should not affect any rights obtained under any previous operation of the law, and would like this caveat to be noted.

The South African Law Reform Commission addressed the Committee briefly, and was asked by the Committee to prepare a written memorandum on the two issues raised so far; the property rights affected by the repeal and the issue of tax exemptions that had been raised both by the Bible Society. This latter issue was also briefly raised by the Muslim Judicial Council, which indicated that it noted the proposal, and was grateful to be given the opportunity to appear, although the proposal did not affect the Council directly. The Committee noted that whether tax advantages should accrue to different organisations was not in point at this stage.

The Committee’s discussions would continue at a further meeting, although all submissions had now been received.

The Committee Secretary announced that the Chairperson had sent apologies and Mr Mshudulu was elected to take the Chair.

Address by Mr Geoff Doidge
The Acting Chairperson welcomed the Chair of Chairs of Parliament, Mr Geoff Doidge, and asked members to give him an opportunity to address the committee. Non-members recused themselves at this point, and Mr Doidge addressed relevant issues.

Gerber’s Legislative Proposal to repeal various Church-related Acts: Dutch Reformed Church Union Act, Apostolic Faith Mission Act, Methodist Church Act, Bible Society Of South Africa Act: Briefings
The Acting Chairperson noted that this proposal dealt directly with specific churches the sponsor had identified, so primarily the Committee should only deal with those that were directly affected. However, other denominations had been invited because the repeal did not only affect the organisations covered by the legislation, all South Africans. This meeting would be the last opportunity to engage with churches because the Committee would now have to apply their minds to the proposal.

Mr Mshudulu welcomed representatives and asked the Committee Secretary to take note of those who had been invited and had not responded. He invited those present to introduce themselves.

Mr Pierre van Wyk, South African Law Reform Commission, tendered apologies on behalf of Adv Deon Rudman who was attending a meeting of the Justice Portfolio Committee.

Ms K Beja, Parliamentary Legal Advisor, stood in for Adv Zuraya Adhikarie, who was in another meeting.

Dr Ben du Toit, Spokesperson, Dutch Reformed Church, had prepared a written submission.

Muslim Judicial Council submission
Mr Abdul Fattaag Carr, Presidential Aide, Muslim Judicial Council, apologised that the President of the Council, Mr Hendricks, was unable to attend owing to illness. He thanked the House for the respect granted to all religious leaders
The Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) had gone through the documentation forwarded to them. The Council suggested that the main point was that certain Acts were thought perhaps to be unconstitutional and affecting other faiths, but the MJC felt this would best be discussed by the faiths directly affected by the Acts, so that the implications and their motivations could be considered. At this point in time the MJC was not aware of anything affecting the Muslim society as such nor the Islam religion. He was made aware that there might be some areas in which the faith could be affected, and would have to submit written submission to the committee after this meeting. He had understood that this might relate to the way in which the Bible Society was financed, how their money was sourced, and exemptions from tax, which might be exclusive, and a written submission would be made addressing this issue in more detail, and giving the views of the MJC on the repealing or amendment of the legislation.

Mr Mshudulu asked members not to lose focus. The sponsor had appealed to the institutions to respond directly to his proposals, not to give other people’s opinions. He commented that this exercise had taught the Committee a lot in terms of understanding the South African environment within the faith.

Adv P Swart (DA) asked for clarity on the repeal of the Bible Society Acts and the implications. He asked if the specific financial exemptions and rights granted to the Bible Society would be an issue if the relevant Acts were repealed.

Mr Carr thanked the Chairperson for the diplomacy shown. The point of clarity would be that the Muslim Judicial Council had recognised that many of these bills did not affect them directly. However, he noted that there was a department which ran the MJC religious studies mini-programmes concerning their Holy Text. If there was an issue which affected this, or could benefit them, they would need to look into the issues and find out what stance to take that would be most beneficial to MJC, as well as to South Africa. He did not wish to pre-empt the kind of input the Muslim Judicial Council would make, but there was a necessity that the Council look at the issues further, and then make recommendations.

Mr Mshudulu reminded Mr Carr that the input should be received not later than next week Thursday, and thanked him for having presented the views.

Dutch Reformed Church Submission
Dr Ben du Toit referred members to the document that had been circulated. This submission detailed grounds for the Church’s support for the Member’s proposal for repeal. The Dutch Reformed Church pledged its support for the repeal of both the acts of 1911 and 1961, with the proviso that the repeal should not affect the previous operation of any law or affect any right, privilege, obligation or liability acquired, accrued or incurred under any law that was now to be repealed, nor affect any investigation, legal proceeding or remedy in respect of any such right, privilege, obligation or liability.

The Dutch Reformed Church expressed their gratitude to the Hon Member of Parliament responsible for this private bill.

Adv Swart submitted , on a point of procedure, that the Act of 1961 was not before the Committee and it could not even be discussed therefore at this stage.

Adv Swart also said that the proposer must look at the amendment of the objectives. He suggested that he look at the proper names of the churches and take into consideration the way in which the objectives were set out.
Mr Mshudulu asked how the Committee could assist if the proposal was not constructed according to law.

Mr H Bekker (IFP) wanted to mention the issue about the Bible Society, because that was not directly relevant to the Dutch Reformed Church. The committee was in agreement with everything in front of it. He thought that some aspects raised would not be relevant in terms of the repeal of the actual Act.

Adv Swart felt there needed to be some separations. It was possible that the Dutch Reformed Church proposal could be finalised.

Mr Mshudulu reminded members that this was the last meeting where the churches would be permitted to make submissions, and after that the Committee must come up with a decision. During that meeting the sponsor would not be speaking. He asked the legal advisors what the Department of Justice had been doing around this issue.

South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC): Submission
Mr Pierre van Wyk commented that the Committee was in a fortunate position where the Churches in principle had no problem with the repeal of their Acts. However, in the case of the Methodist Church, it became apparent last week that there were enormous implications around property issues, although there was not an objection to the repeal as a matter of principle. The Apostolic Faith Mission might be in the same position.

Mr van Wyk noted that there existed a very good discussion document on the whole historic perspective and the legal status of religious bodies. The Church’s property rights had come from the old English law, and churches’ status as legal personalities was clarified. It could be useful from the historical perspective if he made this document available to the Legal Advisors. In relation to the Bible Society, a crucial question for the Committee would be how could they still retain the tax exemption, if empowering legislation were to be repealed.

Mr Bekker was very interested in the comments about the Bible Society, particularly about the tax exemption. He suggested that there must be a study into Act 15 of 1970, and the question must be put directly to the South African Revenue Services (SARS) in terms of this particular aspect. He personally did not see the relevance of this for Bible Society; as there were no doubt other ways and means as to how the tax exemption could be done.

Mr Mshudulu explained that the SALRC had not only been invited for the benefit of those present. He thanked them for their willingness to share that document with the legal team and asked that they, together with the Legal Advisors, should prepare and circulate a written opinion within two days so that the Committee and the sponsor could engage on it. The Committee looked forward to an objective view that would clarify the issues that needed to be addressed.

Ms Beja asked whether he was referring to the recent document on tax implications for the Bible Society.

Mr Mshudulu replied that he was not just referring to this. He would like a comment on all presentations, without losing focus on the Committee’s mandate. SALRC was mandated by Government to attend to certain work, and he would like advice from them, and from SARS, without stalling the process.

Mr van Wyk asked whether he meant the Committee would like them to analyse in a document all the concerns raised so far by the various stakeholders. These would include the objectives, the motivations, the tax issue, and all these should be set out in a way that would assist the Committee with its work. It was the interpretation and the legal opinions that were relevant.


Dr du Toit said subsequent to the Dutch Reformed Church’s last meeting with the Committee he had been asked by the Chairperson to liase with the Law Commission on some of these matters. This latest submission had resulted from that interaction. It was very interesting to hear from the Law Commission and the Committee how they perceived the issues and how they were evaluated. .

Mr Bekker summarised the question raised on the wider aspects. Two principles had emerged; the one was the property rights aspect; the other was the tax aspect. Those were the two main aspects on which the Committee would like to get clarification.

Mr Mshudulu added that they would be free to link up with others where necessary. He asked the Committee Secretary to send through the relevant information to the bodies.

Mr P Gerber (ANC) clarified two aspects raised. The 1961 legislation referred to was in fact a repealing Act. Furthermore, he wished to clarify that the Dr Gerber who had signed the documents was not related to him.

Mr van Wyk noted that it was extremely fortunate that in the case of the Dutch Reformed Church, Parliament had already identified in 1961 a reason to repeal the Act, but it was strange that it was not followed up. He referred to the reports in Hansard on 3 March 1961, which stated ‘The wish of the Church to amalgamate was not something new, in 1911 shortly after Union legislation was passed the old ordinances had never been promulgated because it was conditional legislation, it was made dependant on the success of that amalgamation. They did not then however succeed in the interests to help amalgamate and the 1911 Act therefore lapsed. The church also took legal opinion and both opinions were to the effect that if these ordinances were repealed there would be no change at all to the nature of the Church.’ Already at this stage it seemed to have been picked up that the 1911 Act had never effectively commenced. However, it was still on the Statute Books.

Mr Mshudulu asked that copies of that be circulated.

Ms L Maloney (ANC) cautioned that the Law Commission should communicate to the Committee if a person was not able to come. They should not delay the process as the committee was under pressure now.

Mr Mshudulu agreed; the point was taken.

Mr van Wyk pointed out that he and Mr Mdume were at last Friday’s meeting so were fully aware of what was happening, and also had the benefit of the PMG minutes that they thought were very well kept and informative.

Mr Mshudulu agreed, it seemed that everyone relied on PMG minutes.

Ms Beja tendered apologies on behalf of Adv Adhikarie who had to attend another meeting. She had prepared notes and would make them available to the committee.

Mr Mshudulu announced that the Committee Secretary would make all the necessary arrangements for the Tuesday lunchtime meeting; and also the synopsis of the progress report.

The meeting was adjourned.




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