CRL Rights Commission Report: Commercialisation of Religion & Abuse of People's Belief Systems: hearings Day 1
17 October 2017
Chairperson: Mr M Mdakane (ANC)
CRL Rights Commission Report: Commercialisation of Religion & Abuse of People's Belief Systems: hearings Day 1 - 2
CRL Rights Commission Report: Commercialisation of Religion & Abuse of People's Belief Systems: hearings Day 1 - 1
Freedom of Religion South Africa submission
South African Council for the Protection and Promotion of Religious Rights and Freedoms & FOR SA
Western Cape Ecumenical Network submission
All African Federation submission
International Institute for Religious Freedom submission
Christian Family Church International submission
Association of Christian Religious Practitioners submission
Wesleyan Church of Southern Africa submission
Church Leaders Empowerment Foundation Africa submission
CRL Rights Commission Report
Overview Association of Christian Religious Practitioners
Association of Christian Religious Practitioners Organisation Chart
Association of Christian Religious Practitioners cover letter
Submissions were made by 18 religious organisations and churches on the recommendations and proposals of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRLC) report Commercialisation of Religion & Abuse of People's Belief Systems. Most of the organisations objected to the CRLC Report and the means by which the CRL Commission carried out its investigations and made its findings. They objected to the proposed regulation of religion by the state, saying that it would amount to state control of religion. They unanimously called for another consultative process to be organised by the Commission with the objective of having an all-inclusive engagement with all religious bodies in South Africa. It was further proposed that new laws should not be formulated to address the identified abuses of religion, as existing laws were more than sufficient to address these. A national conference for all religious bodies was proposed to further engage in discussion that would result in unanimous decisions around the promotion of freedom of religion in South Africa.
Members raised questions on the legality of CRLC to issue summons on religious organisations in order to carry out investigations; the need for registration of religious bodies, including the payment of tax by churches involved in some form of business activities; the need for the application of the National Qualifications Authority Act to ensure certification and professionalisation of religious practitioners; whether the abuses emanated from inequality, unemployment and poverty in the country; less restrictive ways of dealing with the concerns; when the proposed national conference for religious bodies would be convened and who the convenor would be; the rationale behind the inability to criminalise religious practice done voluntarily; and the need for CRLC to clarify its position that several religious organisations accepted its proposals and recommendations, which was proven to the contrary at this hearing, and which amounted to misleading Parliament.
Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) submission
Mr Michael Swain, FOR SA Executive Director, noted that FOR SA represented over six million people from a broad cross-section of the faith community. FOR SA’s mandate was to protect and promote the constitutional right of freedom of religion.
FOR SA has been actively involved and engaged in the current process initiated by the CRLC since its inception. It was one of the original 85 religious organisations invited to the CRLC hearings on the commercialisation of religion and abuse of people’s beliefs systems. It subsequently made detailed submissions and attended various presentations by the CRLC. The organisation was grateful to CRLC for identifying a range of issues relating to religious community that needed to be addressed.
As stated in its submissions, written articles and presentations FOR SA held the view that freedom of religion should not be used as an excuse for abusing or harming people. Some actions were reprehensible and were contrary to the fundamental principles of all major religions. FOR SA has equally noted that the abuses identified by CRLC, whether criminal or civil, can and should be dealt with by applying the full weight of the law. It also expressed concern that these laws were not being properly enforced.
FOR SA is a legal advocacy organisation and used the approach of conducting careful legal analysis of all aspects of the CRLC Final Report. The organisation could only comment on what the report says, and not on what the intentions of CRLC may or may not have been. FOR SA therefore decided to broadly consult with other legal and constitutional experts to ensure that its analysis was accurate and substantiated. Organisations contacted include Christian Lawyers Association, Institute of International for Religious Freedoms, and the South African Council for Protection and Promotion of Religious Rights and Freedoms. The role of the latter organisation was to oversee compliance with the SA charter for the promotion and protection of religious rights and freedoms, to which the CRLC was a signatory. FOR SA’s position was therefore, not an isolated one, and its initial submission to the CRLC first draft report was in fact a joint submission with the CIIF.
It had become increasingly apparent that the concerns which FOR SA and many other organisations have expressed about the CRLC recommendations were not being seriously considered or taken into account by the CRLC in its final report. Nevertheless, FOR SA remained committed to assisting the CRLC by contributing to the process of finding truly self-regulatory, sustainable and scalable solutions to the issues which the CRLC Report had legitimately identified.
Ms Nadene Badenhorst, Legal Counsel: FOR SA, added that although FOR SA agreed with the concerns raised by CRLC, it did not agree with the proposed solutions to address the problems. FOR SA together with other legal experts were of the opinion that in light of the existing legislation, the proposed solutions were unnecessary, unconstitutional and unworkable.
On the proposals being unconstitutional, it was pointed out that up till now, the relationship between religion and the state has been one of cooperation. Freedom of religion was acknowledged and constitutionally guaranteed, thereby granting maximum freedom to teach to individuals, religious institutions and communities, preach and practice their religious convictions, and also to operate religious institutions within the law of the land while, on the other hand, placing a duty on the state to create a positive environment for religion and religious freedom to thrive.
FOR SA held the view that accepting the CRLC proposed recommendations would completely change the historic relationship between state and religion and it would make the CRLC (who in terms of the Constitution was an institution of state) the head of religion in South Africa. To buttress this, reference was made to the organogram on page 42 of the CRLC Final Report, which highlighted the CRLC proposal to the effect that it would have the final say and control over religion and religious bodies in South Africa. This position was also clearly stated in statements such as the following in the report: that the CRLC would be “final arbiter in all matters… with final decision powers.”
The above statement did not represent self-regulation, instead, it depicted a form of state regulation of religion. It was never intended either by the Constitution or the CRLC Act for the CRLC to take up this role of licensing and controlling that it had begun claiming for itself. The CRLC mandate was to promote and protect the rights of religious communities, not to license and control.
Contrary to what the CRLC was suggesting, it was inevitable that the Commission if it had to take up this position, would take decisions on the acceptability of doctrinal belief and expression. It was a known fact that there was a thin line between belief and practice, with practice generally being the external manifestation of a belief. For this reason, it may be very difficult if not impossible, to police practice without also touching on doctrinal beliefs. FOR SA was therefore, concerned that the CRLC recommendations were an infringement of the right to religious freedom and freedom of association.
On the proposals being unworkable, FOR SA noted that the CRLC proposal was a broad scale regulation of religion through various regulatory bodies under the final auspices and control of the CRLC. For example, the report proposed the registration of various umbrella bodies for each religion that would all be represented on one peer review committee per religion, and out of the one peer review committee, a single representative would supposedly be elected to represent the entire religion on the multi-faith peer review council. It was very difficult to see how this would work in practice. An example was the religion of Christianity comprising of tens of thousands of denominations, non-denominational, and independent churches or church groups in South Africa, mainly due to the fact that beliefs were different in relation to church organisation, interpretation of scripture, practice of the belief, etc. It was therefore, very difficult to imagine a peer review committee that would serve as a representative of them all. It was also impossible to imagine how a single peer review committee member could represent all of them at the level of peer review council. Based on the above, FOR SA was concerned that the CRLC recommendations though well intended, were not workable.
An important question not addressed by the CRLC Report was the cost in setting out, running and monitoring these regulatory structures. It was evident that what the CRLC was proposing would require fairly large bureaucracy that would likely cost millions of rands per annum. Questions to be asked include whether it was a responsible cost to add to the state fiscus. If the cost would be paid for by religious institutions themselves, would be it be an appropriate cost for them to bear? Was such an additional state imposed cost even legal given that it may prevent institutions from operating at all?
These questions raised the need for alternative recommendations. It was recommended that instead of creating new legislation, government’s already limited resources and capacity should be directed towards the enforcement and strengthening of the available legislation, where necessary. FOR SA also proposed that the report should be referred back to the CRLC, after which time and opportunity should be given for a broad based consultation of the religious community of South Africa driven by the religious community itself, to propose solutions to the issues identified by CRLC.
FOR SA noted that the CRLC recommendations emanated from hearings convened with a random sample of 85 religious and African traditional religion leaders in South Africa only. As such, it would be correct to say that the broad and diverse religious community in South Africa has fully not been consulted on an issue that would directly affect them. FOR SA has been in conversation with some of these organisations that were now present at the meeting, about organising a national conference of religious leaders, where these issues can be properly tabled, discussed and arrive at solutions proposed by the religious community for the religious community to be adopted. CRLC should be called upon as a key stakeholder in the religious sector to support and participate in such forum. FOR SA said that it would fully support such an initiative as a proactive way of confronting and addressing the legitimate concerns raised by the CRLC. It also appealed to the Committee to give the religious community of South Africa the opportunity to own the entire process and solutions, since the community was directly affected by the proposed recommendations by CRLC.
Association of Christian Religious Practitioners (ACRP) submission
Mr JP van der Walt, Secretary: ACRP, said that ACRP was established on the suggestion of the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) for reasons explained in its document. On ACRP’s views on the CRLC Report, the association agreed with the CRLC Report that there were certain serious issues in the field of religious activity that needed to be corrected. ACRP shared the concern of many about the evidence of misconduct in certain churches and among some faith leaders in the country. However, its contention was that ample institutions and instruments to deal with the situation were already in place, and could be better used. The solution was not to duplicate these institutions and instruments through new laws and highly coercive structures that would seriously jeopardise religious freedom in the country. A proper role for CRLC would rather be to support existing structures, instruments and processes, and through this strengthen the hand of the responsible component of the religious profession to deal with irresponsible activities where such occur among peers.
ACRP registered its unequivocal support to CRLC’s proposed involvement in the support to and strengthening of the responsible component of the profession by focusing on the use of existing structures, instruments and processes. It however, reiterated its opposition to the duplication of existing processes and instruments, as well as the creation of coercive structures that would jeopardise religious freedoms.
ACRP suggested that there were numerous angles from which CRLC proposals could be addressed. Other participants in the hearing would make submissions on these. ACRP however, argued that ample provision has been made in existing laws and legal practices for the level of control needed to overcome the problems identified by CRLC. The combination of existing structures and communication lines of religious institutions, together with common law, corporate governance measures in company and social development legislation, as well as other laws (see submission) provide all the required mechanisms and instruments to do this.
The rest of the submission by ACRP focused on the intention of CRLC which was in relation to the statutory establishment of a professional body for religious professionals (see submission). ACRP concluded by proposing that CRLC should focus on facilitating self-regulatory processes, as well as promote the effective use of opportunities, practices, structures and laws that already exist.
SA Council for Religious Rights and Freedoms (SACRRF) submission
Prof Pieter Coertzen, President: SACRRF, said that SACRRF was responsible for the South African Charter of Religious Rights and Freedoms, which has been accepted by the main line churches in South Africa; the Jewish, Muslim and Hindu communities; as well as the South African traditional religion. The Council therefore, represented a broad spectrum of religious bodies in South Africa.
The Council was grateful for the work done by CRLC in pointing out important issues that affect South Africans. However, the Council disagreed with the proposals made by CRLC, which in its opinion was a form of state regulation of religion, which was a contradiction of religious freedom.
SACRRF shared the view that a better approach to be adopted by CRLC should be one that would bring all religions together to deliberate on the obligations of religions in South Africa, particularly in cases of misuse of religion.
Prof Rassie Malherbe, Legal Advisor: SACRRF, added that the implementation of the CRLC proposals would limit religious freedoms. The questions that arise from the proposals was whether the CRLC recommendations are constitutional; and if they serve as a limitation on religious freedom, whether or not they would amount to constitutional limitation on religious freedom. To respond to this, it was necessary to consider Section 36 of the Constitution, which provided that the limitation of a constitutional right must be reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom. Section 36 went on to provide five factors to consider in determining the answer to that question. The first factor was the nature and importance of the right, which could be proved by the number of associations and organisations represented at the meeting. The Constitutional Court has alluded to the importance of religion and religious freedom to the general public in South Africa.
The second factor was the importance of the purpose of limitation, which could only be determined through a consideration of the report to find its purpose, especially since the purpose was not clearly stated. However, the purpose inferred from the report was that it was aimed at protecting individuals from abuses and malpractices in religion, among religious bodies and religious practitioners. This inferred purpose was in itself, legitimate and lawful. It however, raised serious questions as there was no evidence in the report of how widespread such abuses and malpractices were. More information and evidence was needed on this. The report did not show how the limitation of state regulation of religion would achieve this purpose.
The third factor was in relation to the nature and extent of the limitation. The Constitutional Court ruled on this to the effect that “the more substantial the inroad into fundamental rights, the more persuasive the grounds for justification must be.” Based on this, it was clear that key components of the right to religious freedom would be affected. Also, the proposals were ‘sweeping’ by nature, as it included all religious practitioners and not only those committing abuses. Everyone would be subject to the system of state regulation. It could therefore, be concluded that the nature and extent of limitation was fairly severe.
The fourth factor focused on the relation between the limitation and its purpose. The Constitutional Court referred to this factor as the ‘rational relationship test’ by asking if there was a rational relationship between the limitation (which was the state regulation of religion in this case) and the purpose (which was to combat abuse in religion). It was difficult to answer this question as there were quite a few issues to be considered. Firstly, it seemed the solution proposed by CRLC was overbroad or over-inclusive. Secondly, the certainty of the effectiveness of the limitation was in doubt. This was because the CRL Commission itself recognised the existence of legislation in the statute book, but the legislation was not enforced effectively. The Commission did not also give a reason as to why a new system based and dependent on effective implementation, would be more effective.
The fifth and final factor was in relation to having a less restrictive means to achieve the purpose. The CRLC Report itself notes that there were many pieces of legislation that were already applicable to religious bodies and religious practitioners. The question to be asked was whether those pieces of legislation could be enforced more effectively. The CRL Commission did not give an answer to this. Also, in terms of the mandate of the commission, the CRL Commission had a specific educational role to play as far as religion was concerned. It was therefore, an opportunity for the Commission to develop both educational and training programmes that can assist religious practitioners in becoming more aware of how to treat their members; how to comply with financial accountability; and so on. It was proposed that it would be effective for religious communities to join forces in developing a code of conduct or other instruments that would address the abuses. It was thus possible to come up with less restrictive means to achieve the CRLC purpose.
SACRRF concluded that the proposed recommendations in CRLC Report did not comply with Section 36 and implementing them would be unconstitutional.
Another area of concern was that the implementation of the recommendations would require more than an amendment to the CRLC Act. It would also require an amendment to the Constitution. This was because the Commission was an advisory body in terms of the Constitution (which was the base document for CRLC), and conferring all these executive powers to the Commission would require a substantial amendment of Chapter 9 of the Constitution. The CRLC proposals were inconsistent with the Constitution; and it was not feasible to have the said amendment carried out. For this reason, SACRRF submitted that the proposals should not be implemented.
The Chairperson pointed out that the CRLC Report was trying to address the commercialisation and abuse of people’s beliefs. He urged other submissions to be made in line with the main issue at hand.
Prof Malherbe agreed with the Chairperson, while reiterating that implementing the CRLC recommendations would amount to an over-kill. Focus should be placed on other real issues. The CRL Commission did a good job in highlighting the problems, but it went overboard in proposing solutions of state regulation to address the identified abuses. It was for this reason that SACRRF suggested that the proposed recommendations would not comply with Section 36, and should therefore not be implemented.
South African Catholic Bishops Council (SACBC) submission
Archbishop Stephen Bruslin, Catholic Archbishop of Cape Town and President of SACBC, introduced the team from the Council. He noted that while it was important to address abuses that occur and tarnish the faith of religious practitioners, it was also necessary to ensure the protection of religious freedom.
Sister Hermenegild Makoro, Secretary General: SACBC continued by noting that the Catholic Church agreed that some abuses were committed by Pastors and churches in the name of religion. However, the Council questioned whether the existence of such abuses was a widespread problem. The CRL Commission merely highlighted a few sensational cases. It did not conduct a proper study to determine the extent of the problem. Also, the fraudulent or harmful practices identified by the CRL Commission could be effectively tackled through existing laws and by existing institutions such as the Police, SARS, the Reserve Bank, Home Affairs, and so on. The Catholic Church and the vast majority of religious groups respect the law of the land and adhere scrupulously to regulations around non-profit organisations, tax, foreign exchange and so on. SACBC therefore, believed that enforcement of the laws should be taken into account instead of duplicating the existing laws to address the issues identified by the commission.
Bishop Sithembele Sipuka, Vice-President: SACBC, added that SACBC did not believe it was necessary for religious organisations or churches to be regulated or supervised from outside, especially since such practice would be a clear violation of the right to freedom of religion, belief and opinion. Although the CRL Commission claimed that its envisaged scheme of peer review committee and umbrella bodies would carry out self-regulation, it was clear that this would not be true self-regulation, but a regulation imposed from outside a specific denomination, church, and religious organisation. Looking at the diversity of denominational traditions and differences, it would be impossible to formulate one group that would be act as peer review over the numerous denominations. Such imposition, especially as it relates to matters of doctrine, teaching and witness, would be unconstitutional.
On the Chairperson’s point of call for organisations and religious bodies present at the meeting to focus on the issues highlighted in the CRLC Report on the commercialisation of religion and abuse of people’s belief system, Adv Mike Porthier, Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Officer, urged the Portfolio Committee to focus on the findings from the CRLC Report that really identified instances of commercialisation and abuse, and then ponder on the question of whether there were in fact other findings and recommendations flowing from those findings which have little or nothing to do with commercialisation or abuse of religion.
In SACBC’s opinion, there were three categories of findings in the CRLC Report, some of which highlighted things that were clearly illegal. As mentioned by previous speakers, there were existing laws and existing institutions of state that could tackle the clear illegalities. Such state institutions should be allowed to tackle those illegalities using the existing laws. The Commission identified certain practices or behaviours that could be considered questionable or slightly undesirable, but which could be improved upon. Examples of such things include whether or not a particular church must have a bank account. Although this may be desirable, it may not always be necessary. The questionable or undesirable could be dealt with through an educative approach, rather than the enforcement approach that was currently in use by the Commission, particularly because one of the mandates of the Commission was to assist religious communities and organisations in an educative way to facilitate their activities in a more professional way, without enforcing it.
The Commission identified a number of practices which in SACBC’s view were perfectly normal and acceptable but for some reason, the Commission seemed to think those practices were problematic. For example, there was nothing wrong with the practice of transferring money out of South African to so-called head offices of churches if done legally. If however, such transfers were done illegally, it should be tackled. Other examples include was the Commission’s view about the process of starting a new church in South Africa being an easy process; and the number of churches in the country headed by foreigners. Once the above examples did not constitute an illegality, the Commission was not supposed to interfere.
SACBC further requested the Committee to examine all findings from the CRLC Report, and categorise them into the actual problem, areas requiring the assistance of the Committee, and areas that should be left as they were. A further point of concern was the way the Commission viewed itself outside the state or government. In section 19 of the report, the Commission stated that ‘the issuing of registration certificates would be done by the Commission and not by the state or the government.’ It was perfectly clear that the Commission being a Chapter 9 Institution in support of democracy, was part of the state. The Commission would therefore, be registering practitioners and organisations as a state body.
Also, there were a number of the final recommendations in section 19 of the report that were completely impracticable and unworkable. They raised questions of the rationale behind such recommendations. An example was the recommendation that every religious leader should have a physical location. It was unnecessary to impose such requirement, particularly because throughout history, there have been tens of thousands of religious leaders that opted from having a place of their own because they move around often. Another requirement was the registration of places such as mountains or places near rivers as a place of worship. This was impractical because the congregation could decide to move at any time. The Committee was therefore urged to interrogate aspects of the report that were unworkable, impractical, and overly imposing, and then ask the Commission have a relook at those aspects.
SACBC reiterated its deep opposition to the notion around peer review committees and umbrella bodies having any kind of control or authority oversight over specific denominations. A characteristic of freedom of religion was that different registered organisations and denominations and faiths respect each other; work together with each other without trying to impose their beliefs on each other. The system which the Commission sought to put into place, would amount to imposition. It completely undermined the right to freedom of religion.
Lastly, the CRLC Report was a prime example of trying to crack a small nut with a sledge hammer. The cure (through the recommendations) would be worse than the disease that it was intended to address. It was pointed out that passing the draft Bill that was presented at the initial stages of the CRLC Report into law would do immense harm to freedom of religion, practice of religion and to religious communities in the country, as the Bill was completely antithetical to the mandate of the Commission, which was to provide assistance to religious communities, rather than making life more difficult for them.
International Institute of Religious Freedom (IIRF) submission
Prof Christof Sauer noted that his submission would exclusively focus on freedom of religion or belief in the international human rights framework as well as a focus on the role of the state as this informs the assessment of the CRLC Commission’s final report. This aspect cannot be found in the report itself and has not been mentioned by other presenters. He agreed with other speakers that there was an observer role problem and it was important to find a solution to the problem, as well as find out the role that the state and its arms have to play. He noted that the sources on which his submission would be based were reports of the United Nations (UN) special rapporteur, and particularly, a report on registration. The second source was an international law commentary on freedom of religion or belief by the special rapporteur and other scholars. An extract has been given in the appendix of his submission.
He continued by highlighting some relevant foundational observations on freedom of religion or belief as a human right based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948 that clearly provides that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes the freedom to change a religion and to manifest a religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. This can be done as individuals and in communities. This right is repeated in article 18 of the International Covenant On Civil And Political Rights (ICPPR) of which South Africa was a party. Article 18(3) states that this freedom may only be limited if prescribed by law and is necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. To properly understand these broad foundational rights, it was important to consider three principles, the first being that the rights were universal. It applied to all persons, both religious and non-religious. The Commission’s report failed to cover atheists and agnostics. Everyone has to be treated the same. Secondly, the right were un-earnable, which meant that it could not be taken away by anyone. It had existed before the state and was rooted in human dignity. The state was in no authority to either grant it or take it away. The state only had duties towards it. The third principle was the rights were non-discriminatory. They could not be claimed for some and not for others. They had to be applied equally to all persons. He expressed doubts about the Commission’s efforts in sufficiently considering minorities, as it seemed the Commission had a threshold that considered larger groups only.
On the role of the state, the state had three duties which were to respect, protect, and fulfill. The duty to protect was for Parliament to ensure protection of all South Africans and the country at large from an overreach, while the duty to fulfill implied the creation of conducive conditions for full enjoyment. The question of who constituted the state and who shares obligations with the state has been asked before. The answer was simply all arms of government on all levels, including the CRLC Commission. Those obligations were on three levels, namely the constitutional framework level; the legal norms; and implementation level. However, it was important for these levels to work in compliance with administrative procedures.
On the narrow confines of permissible limitations, it was pointed out that any limitation of freedom of religion or belief must be justified, proportionate and non-discriminatory within strictly delimited grounds. The question that comes to mind was whether or not the proposals were properly justified, proportionate and non-discriminatory. Were there proven grounds or has any case been proven?
On the registration and regulation of religion, there were international standards for these and South Africa had to uphold those standards. He quoted from the appendix as follows: “The Commission of Human Rights resolution 2005… urges states to review whenever relevant, existing registration practices in order to ensure the right of all persons to manifest their religion or belief alone or in community with others and in public or in private. It urges states to ensure, in accordance with appropriate national legislation and in conformity with international human rights law, the freedom of all persons and members of groups; to establish and maintain religious charitable or humanitarian institution is fully respected and protected.” A list of examples to avoid and recommendations for the option of registration was printed and submitted alongside his submission. As noted earlier, the legal personality of registration for religious communities already exists, but the recommendations given in the report apply to the suggested registration and licensing. The most important thing was that such registration had to be voluntary; not compulsory. It would be impossible to criminalise religious activities that moved outside the bounds of registration.
Some of the examples of things to avoid, as well as recommendations to follow include:
- No religious community should be empowered either de jure or de facto decide upon, influence or veto the registration of another religious community. This applies to the proposed peer review committee.
- Registration should neither favour a particular leader or specific organs of a divided religious community.
- The issue of missionary activities of foreigners was mentioned in the report. The most important thing to note here was that members of religious communities who cannot or do not wish to register should still be able to individually and collectively manifest their religion or belief.
There was an interesting international study on how the different states and nations fare concerning government’s restriction of religion and social hostilities. The study showed that South Africa was very low in government restrictions, whereas Russia, India and China were very high on government restrictions of religion. He suggested that South Africa should not go down the route of Russia, India or China but rather, do better.
On the question of the consequence of Parliament accepting the CRLC Report wholly, he said that he foresaw litigation and if it did not stop at the Constitutional Court, it is expected that the Human Rights Council would condemn it. This was asides the universal periodic review that occurred every four years, and in which every country was examined, with the expectation of critical remarks. As it was, South Africa was already being watched by the international community.
In summary, freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief was a fundamental and protected human right, whose public manifestation may only be limited under very narrowly defined circumstances. The proposed regulations severely restrict the enjoyment of freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief and violate fundamental human rights. They were unjustified, unwarranted, discriminatory in many respects, disproportionate, unnecessary, based on flawed assumptions, impractical, and unfeasible.
The simple recommendation would be that the Committee should reject the report of the CRL Commission outright on the grounds given above. Self-regulation of religious communities including developing ethics codes without intervening, and controlling or instrumentalising should be encouraged. Many of the recommendations given by the Commission under point 16 seemed reasonable and should be pursued. However, those recommendations did not deal with compulsory registration and licensing. The recommendations can be pursued without following the suggestions for implementation as given under point 17 and the whole package that follows thereafter. The Committee may want to engage with this authority and other appropriate entities to ensure that existing laws were applied and enforced without infringing on freedom of religion or belief. Should the Portfolio Committee however, choose to follow any of the recommendations of the CRLC Commission, it must ensure that it meets all the standards of the international human rights framework, particularly with regards to freedom of religion or belief, including the recommendations on how not to regulate registration, and the recommendation on how to devise any procedures for their acquisition of legal status.
Western Cape Ecumenical Network (WCEN) submission
Rev Gareth Stead said that WCEN was a network with one of the most represented bodies of denominations and movements that represent the Christian faith in the Western Cape. Its member bodies and movements include the Western Cape branch of South African Council of Churches, which represented some 36 member denominations and organisations in South Africa; the consultation of Christian churches which represented 43 denominations and church movements with an active presence in the Western Cape; the evangelical alliance of South Africa: Western Cape chapter; the South African Christians initiative; the great Commission network, a network of a large number of churches in Khayelitsha and neighbouring townships in Cape Town; Ecclesia which was an ecumenical centre of the faculty of theology at Stellenbosch University; and many independent churches that were not members of any specific denomination. Many of its member bodies have made written submissions of their own and have engaged the CRL Rights Commission hearings actively. WCEN has studied the final report of the CRLC Rights Commission, and noted contents and recommendations. It therefore, wished to make the following observations and recommendations.
The first observation was that the WCEN acknowledged the good intentions of the CRLC investigations and subsequent reports, which it considered noble with regard to the stated aim to promote the self-regulation of religion. Its understanding from studying the report was that the Commission sought to create an environment where there were appropriate mechanisms to be able to address incidences of abuse of peoples’ belief systems, address unethical practices by religious leaders and assist churches and religious communities to apply sound principles for corporate governance to nurture a healthy and sustainable operation of their religious bodies and organisations.
Secondly, despite concerns raised by several bodies to the contrary, WCEN has taken note of them and wishes to express our appreciation for the stated commitment of the CRL Commission to uphold its constitutional mandate to protect the freedom of belief, freedom of association, and protection from interference by the state when it comes to the practice of religion and the functioning of religious bodies in South Africa.
Thirdly, the network noted with concern, the resistance and lack of cooperation shown by certain religious leaders during the CRLC rights Commission’s investigations as recorded in their report. Perhaps this was exacerbated by the unfortunate decision by the CRLC to use the powers of subpoena to conduct its investigation, rather than those of voluntary cooperation. The lack of cooperation by certain religious leaders was regrettable. However, WCEN was glad to see that the majority of leaders cooperated fully.
WCEN’s position on the CRLC Report was that it found the recommendation to amend the CRLC Act to be both problematic and unnecessary, despite the good intentions of the CRLC Commission. This was because the recommendation had the potential to cause unintended negative consequences that would open the door for state control of the licensing of ministers of religion in South Africa and in effect, state interference in what ministers of religion can or cannot do or say as mentioned by previous speakers. Though the recommendations contained in the CRLC Report are couched in self-regulatory terms, a more careful reading makes it clear that the proposed structures were answerable to the CRL Rights Commission and the CRL Commission itself was (in the Commission’s words), the final arbiter of religion.
Secondly, WCEN deemed the recommendations to be unnecessary since the CRLC Act empowered the CRL Commission sufficiently to achieve its intended objectives and address the concerns that its investigations have highlighted. For example, in respect of the recommendation for the establishment of regulatory councils for each religion, clauses 36 and 37 of the CRLC Act specifically speak to the recognition of community councils, and where none exists, the Act states that the Commission may recommend to a community which was not organised to initiate and establish a community council at a provincial or national level for the promotion and protection of the rights of such a community.
The first recommendation of WCEN was that the Portfolio Committee should make no changes to the CRLC Act, as the WCEN deemed the Act to be sufficient in its current form. Secondly, it was recommended that the CRL Commission should support and participate in a church national consultative conference in 2018 with the following aims:
- to foster greater mutual accountability to principles for sound, corporate governance and ethical practices among ministers of religion.
- to examine the viability of establishing an ecumenical body that could provide appropriate mechanisms to support greater corporate governance and ethical practices in churches and all denominations on a voluntary, mutually accountable and truly self-regulatory basis in South Africa.
The third recommendation was that the Committee should consider preparing a motion before the National Assembly for the adoption of the South African Charter on Religious Rights and Freedoms to be adopted under section 234 of the Constitution, which states that in order to deepen the culture of democracy established by the Constitution, Parliament may adopt charters of rights consistent with the provisions of the Constitution. This charter has been endorsed by signatories from all major religions in South Africa as well as by the CRL Commission itself and it provides a foundation for the development of a code of ethics by religious communities for religious communities.
WCEN prayed that the Committee would take decisions that would enhance and continue to protect freedom of religion in South Africa as per the mandate of the CRLC Commission.
Christian Ministers Council of Southern Africa (CMCSA) submission
Pastor Julius Moloi, President: CMCSA, noted that CMCSA was a Christian voluntary advocacy organisation that represented mostly independent ministers and practitioners. It was in association with other organisations represented in the meeting. CMCSA recognised the right, powers and responsibility of the CRL Commission as a chapter 9 institution to carry out its duties, obligations, and report on its activities as outlined in Section 5, 6, 7 and 8 of the CRLC Act. However, CMCSA requested the Portfolio Committee to take the report with a pinch of salt, if not throw it out completely, for the following reasons.
The first reason was the quality of investigation, research, public hearing or study, as the report did not clarify the nature of the exercise conducted; whether it was a research, an investigation, a study or a public hearing. Also Section A of the Report itself indicated that the CRL Commission acted on media reports and not necessarily on a complaint as outlined in their complaints handling procedures manual. The CRL Commission used the term ‘commercialisation of religion’ but did not clarify what it meant. The phrase had a far broader inclusion than what the Commission realises. CMCSA therefore, requested that the phrase should not be associated with the Christian faith at least. Although the report spent some time explaining the aspect of commercialisation, it only speaks about a prima facie evidence of commercialisation. It did not elaborate on what constituted commercialisation, and what was being commercialised. A consideration of the broadness of the term showed that selling a bible or a gospel music DVD could be termed commercialisation of religion. The quality of the report was therefore, very worrisome. The CRLC used the phrase ‘abuse of people’s belief systems’. This was a broad term. CMCSA suggested that the CRLC did not have the necessary expertise and depth of doctrinal knowledge to highlight the dichotomy between religious practices and abuses. A more experienced and informed group of religious experts would need to engage in this exercise.
The quality of the approach and methodology was yet another concern. CMCSA felt that the Commission created an impression that this process conducted extensive consultation and public hearings across the country but as alluded to by FOR SA, only 88 individuals out of the 38 million Christians or religious people in South Africa were engaged with and these participants were not actually willing participants, as they were . They were coerced and threatened by summonses. The Committee was asked to take this into cognisance in considering the report. The heavy handed approach of the Commission towards the religious sector had left a bad taste and a self-inflicted hostility from the religious sector towards the CRLC Commission. It was therefore, difficult to confidently state that participation in the CRLC procedures was a harmonious, willing participatory process. It was therefore, proposed that the findings and the recommendations based on these findings should not be accepted. The quality of the report was therefore questionable based on the methodology and the approach used by the Commission.
CRLC was currently engaged in court battles with Christian leaders fighting for their rights to practice their faith freely. This was unprecedented in the history of the CRLC Commission. The CRL Commission was therefore, in breach of Section 185(1)(a) and (b) of the Constitution which spoke to the formulation of the Commission and highlights the responsibilities of the Commission in promoting harmony and peace within the religious sectors. The Commission was mandated by the CRLC Act to hold two consultative processes in its tenure. The current sitting Commission had a consultative process for initiation schools, of which it could be argued that it was characterised by elements of commercialisation and abuse, since the Commission spent a lot of money hosting a consultative process. As a matter of fact, fatalities were experienced but the process was handled respectably very well. There was no media hype that would have depicted the traditional initiation practices a laughing stock of the society. This raised the question why the religious sector could not be afforded the same privilege as part of the Commission’s responsibility. Overall, CMCSA was not happy with the quality of the report, as well as with the recommendations based on the investigation, research or study.
On page 4 of the report, the CRL Rights Commission expressed the view that there were several reasons for regulating the religious sector to be regulated. From the onset, the Commission had expressed its desire for the religious sector to be regulated. It was proposed that after this extensive investigation, an amendment should be made to the promotion and protection of the CRLC rights. This would assist religious institutions in creating an environment for self-regulation of religious bodies, as well as ensure that religious bodies can hold the people who bring religion into disrepute accountable as per their various religions.
Although the above mentioned position was what the Commission reported to the Committee, the reality was further from the truth. It was important to take note of the fact that the CRLC Commission’s main intention was to be empowered in order to control religion, and this would amount to state control of religion.
On page 47 of the report where the CRL Commission spoke about the peer review committee, which according to the Commission, would be an advisory body to the CRLC Act. The latter qualification already serves to take away the powers of the peer review committee, particularly because the report provided that “the final decision powers shall lie with the CRLC rights Commission”. If a religious sector or the peer review committee or anybody wants to challenge the position of the CRLC Commission, such persons or religious organisations would have to engage in an expensive legal process of court battles, with money that the religious sector did not have, despite impressions to the contrary.
CMCSA recommended that the CRL Commission should afford a consultation process to the religious sector. It proposed that the report should not be accepted until the aforementioned consultation process has been engaged in. Religious bodies and organisations were ready to walk with and assist the CRLC, despite the fact that the CRLC has failed to convince one institution of law to take action against anyone with respect to the identified problems in its report. It was further proposed that the CRL Commission should submit a report of this consultation process to the Committee.
CMCSA requested COGTA to publish through the Promotion of Access of Information Act, the process and steps followed in appointing CRLC Commissioner, as the religious sector would like to be conversant with the process. This was because the current chairperson of the CRL Commission was a former employee of the Commission, which was contrary to the provisions of the CRLC Act to the effect that linguistic religious communities must make nomination.
All African Federation of Churches (AAFC) submission
Archbishop Nchene Tskedi, President of AAFC, said that AAFC represented African indigenous churches (the Zionist, apostolic, charismatic churches, those who worship under the trees, those who are in their dining rooms, in the school classrooms; and generally a large number of millions of South Africans).
Mr Liverson Mdongo, Secretary: AAFC, continued by noting that the report from the CRLC was purportedly based on public hearings and extensive consultations that happened, which in actual fact did not happen. In actual fact, after the preliminary findings were published, CRLC conducted an exercise to sanitise the process, which was obviously flawed. AAFC has stood up, recognised the Portfolio Committee as its last hope to be heard, and has made numerous attempts, including submitting and getting a petition signed by 20 000 people rejected outright. Its stance was that more than two million people should matter to democracy in South Africa. It was important for the views of religious bodies to be heard, and the Committee meeting was the first opportunity for such to happen.
It was pointed out that the sampling technique used by the CRLC resulted in 70% of the people who were forced, intimidated and terrified with the fear of God to appear before the Commission. Most of these people were from Pentecostal independent churches but this did not represent the demographics of Christianity in South Africa. AAFC held the view that if the report were to be adopted, it would constitute a threat to democracy and the reform of religion in South Africa altogether. The report should not be submitted to the Committee as it was fatally flawed. Also, on the submission of the CRLC not to waste funds, AAFC noted that the report itself was a terrible waste of taxpayers’ money. The report was written poorly, as it contained numerous typographical grammar and structural errors. The hypotheses used were not tested. One of the hypotheses was investigation of the gullibility of people to be abused, using traditional healers and African religion as a reference, whilst asking questions about the history of traditional religion, and the relationship between traditional healers and other organisations. How do these questions address the issue at hand? The study investigated leaders and accused them without visiting the communities. The perception was that leaders abused the faith of people. It was difficult to understand how the issues CRLC was trying to address would be solved without going to the communities to ask questions from the members of the communities.
AAFC suggested that the method of summons used was illegal, unconstitutional, and an affront to democracy as it was designed to intimidate, harass and scare people. The study in AAFC’s view amounted to a mere academic exercise. It seemed the CRLC had a preconceived model it wanted to implement, regardless of any opposition or recommendation stating otherwise. This posed challenges and problems for the religious sector.
AAFC rejected the proposal of the Commission for churches to present their financial reports to the Commission. It regarded this as ultra vires, and noted that the South African Charter of Religious Rights and Freedoms emphasizes this as one of the most important provisions of the freedom of churches as non profit organsiationa (NPOs) in South Africa. The finances of NPOs should be governed and monitored by SARS, not by the Commission.
Reference was made to item 14.2 of the report, which was to the effect that the CRLC had no intention to regulate religion but rather to get rid of people who are seen to bring religion to disrepute in South Africa. This raised the question of the implication of a state institution getting rid of people, and how this would be done.
With regard to the process followed by the Commission, it was pointed out that the Commission commenced its investigating with the preconceived idea that if the consulted individuals refused to show up, summons would be instituted. This singular act constituted a fatal flaw, which had the effect of destroying the entire investigation. It seemed the Commission recommendations was more about the Commission and not about religious communities in South Africa.
On the Commission’s stipulation of licensing and accreditation of places and centres of worship, AAFC suggested that it implied the regulation of religion in South Africa by the Commission. AAFC had lost trust and confidence in the Commission because of the behaviour of the people it was made up of; as well as the sensationalisation and demonisation of certain people targeted by the CRLC. Although the CRLC intention on paper was to investigate commercialisation and abuse of religious faith, it ended up investigating the proliferation of the number of churches in South Africa, which had nothing to do with commercialisation.
AAFC agreed with other presenters that the existing laws were sufficient to deal with the problems that have been identified by the Commission; laws covering issues that range from advertising standards/ethics to financial management; crime; fraud; illegal immigration, and so on. There was therefore, no need to convolute the legal system in South Africa by adding anything new laws.
AAFC concluded by recommending that the report be rejected by the Committee; and the Commission should revisit the issue of consultation of religious institutions, and perhaps come up with another entity that would bring objectivity into the whole process in order to ensure an all-inclusive approach. Religious organisations would like to be consulted and not directed.
Assemblies of God (AOG) submission
Dr Peter Watt, chairman of AOG in South Africa, said that AOG was in full support of all inputs that have been received thus far. AOG was a large and well-known denomination in South Africa and has been in the country for more than 100 years. Yet it was not approached by the CRLC. AOG approached the Commission for its comments and inputs after CRLC had put its recommendations together about getting abuse of church leaders under control. However, AOG was concerned about the Final Report, as it seemed the CRLC did not take the advice from well-established denominations with long and positive track records in the South African story. What was put forward at first seemed to have reappeared in Parliament, and when comments were requested, the submitted comments were ignored. There were factual problems; one of which was the claim of support for millions of people of faith which was unsubstantiated. The claim that TEASA and SACC support the recommendations of the report was not true. There are practical problems in what is being proposed, one of which was the licensing places of worship, religious teachers and ministers, which was unworkable.
The proposals of CRLC struck at the heart of the church as the body of Christ. The abusers of faith can be dealt with by other existing laws. AOG agreed with other speakers that the implication of accepting the recommendations of the CRLC would be dire and detrimental to freedom of religion. It would invariably lead to unintended consequences to freedoms of all faith to express their beliefs, exposing followers of various faiths to legal action, as well as unnecessary criminalisation of good people, like what obtained in Russia and China.
On the legal opinion, AOG said that there were enough existing laws to protect people against the crimes of abuse, and it would be superfluous to add new laws to the legal framework. Furthermore, the stated legal opinion would be an act of folly to further burn the statute books with the CRLC Bill if it became a Bill.
AOG therefore requested that the whole recommendation of the CRL Commission be dropped. Its concern was that it reflected a creeping intervention of the state into the affairs of religious organisations and this intervention was driven by highly publicised instances of the bad behaviour of certain individuals that were not representative of the huge majority of people of faith. There were well established and responsible structures amongst the religious community, some of which were present at the meeting. The plea was for the voices of the religious communities to be heard.
Evangelical Alliance of South Africa (TEASA) submission
Adv Teresa Conradie, Attorney, chairperson of the Global Council of Advocates International and secretary general of Advocates Africa, both international and continental networks of Christian lawyers made her presentation on behalf of TEASA, which was a network representing four million evangelical Christians in South Africa. TEASA was an associate member of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) and was affiliated to the association of evangelicals in Africa, as well as to the World Evangelical Alliance, which was home to 650 million Christians worldwide.
Having properly considered the report of the CRL Rights Commission and the investigation and the report, TEASA suggested that there was a bona fide attempt to address very important matters on religion. The report highlighted various issues which were of great concern to TEASA and which should be of concern to all religious communities in South Africa. While there was sufficient self-regulation within church denominations and associations of churches, TEASA acknowledged that there was currently a concern in respect of self-regulation of non-denominational and independent churches. The concerns which have been raised in the report and which TEASA wishes to address include practices that were potentially harmful, dangerous, unethical (referred to as abuses); the perceived inadequacy of existing legislation; and the lack of implementation of legislation and prosecution of offenders.
The report not only highlighted many instances of such abuses but there has been sufficient evidence in the media of abuses by religious practitioners. TEASA emphatically condemned these abuses, particularly as there was no biblical basis on which they could be justified. However, it was important that abuses conducted by religious practitioners were not seen in isolation from similar abuses by other persons who were in positions of trust. These would include amongst others, traditional healers who encourage people to eat human flesh; the so called love life consultants; fortune tellers; illegal abortionists; designers of pyramid schemes and so on. TEASA was of the belief that the mere risk of losing one’s status as a licensed or registered practitioner would not deter these delinquents from engaging in such behaviour and that these abuses should be dealt with by the authorities created by law for this purpose. It can be deduced from the report that the CRL Rights Commission had concluded that the current legislation was inadequate to effectively deal with and prosecute these offenders. TEASA held the view that there has not been sufficient research done and it might be that additional legislation would not be required, as the amendment or enhancement of existing legislation may suffice.
TEASA submitted that the above cannot be determined in the absence of in depth research into existing legislation which would include Acts such as the Criminal Procedure Act, the Financial Intelligence Centre Act, Companies Act, Income Tax Act, Advertising Standards Authority legislation, consumer protection, Non-Profit Organisations Act, Immigration Act, Banks Act, and the Prevention Of Organised Crime Act.
The next concern shown from the report was poor corporate governance and financial management. TEASA acknowledged that some non-denominational and independent churches may have limited or no form of corporate governance or financial management. This included instances where churches had no founding documents or banking accounts and the leaders of the churches were the de facto owners of the church. There were instances where churches were not that compliant and did not adhere to the provisions of FICA legislation. At the same time, it was conceivable that there were many small independent churches with limited financial means whose freedom of religion, and rights to form religious associations as provided for in Section 31 of the Constitution would be severely hampered by cumbersome requirements of corporate governance or registration in any manner.
TEASA therefore suggested that these shortcomings could only be addressed if the approach was not a one size fits all. TEASA was forever in favour of the church community in South Africa, collectively developing training courses which were made available online, with the aim to teach the basic principles of corporate governance and financial management. Course content could include the formation of proper forms of enterprise such as voluntary associations, trust, non-profit companies, the minimum requirement for proper founding documents such as constitutions, trusts, deeds and memorandum of incorporation (MOI), opening and management of banking accounts and financial accountability to the members of churches, registration as NPOs with the Department of Social Development (DSD), registration with SARS as public benefit organisation obtaining the necessary exemption and achieving tax compliance, financial accounting and reporting. The focus of the view that TEASA had was on education and not on compliance.
The next concern was the lack of standardised qualification of religious practitioners. TEASA disagreed with the submission that a minimum requirement for qualifications should be prescribed. It supported the work done by the association of Christian religious practitioners (ACRP) in developing qualification standards which religious practitioners could voluntarily pursue. In its reading of the report, TEASA could not determine whether the CRL Rights Commission had made any enquiries whatsoever or done any research into international best practice. TEASA noted that much could be gained by thorough investigation into legislation relating to the management, regulation, organising of religion in other countries, particularly other sub-Saharan African countries where the Christian faith was predominant. These could include countries such as Ghana, Botswana, Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Zambia, Cameroun, Angola, and Rwanda.
Religious freedom and the autonomy of the church were of utmost importance in making sure that the Committee appreciated the magnitude of the task at hand. There were at least 40 million people in South Africa who called themselves Christians. These Christians were organised in a broad range of different doctrinal beliefs, leadership structures, religious practices, ways and means of worshipping and teaching. It was in fact impossible to accurately define who could be called a Christian or what could be called a Christian church. It was therefore, inconceivable that a simple solution can be designed that would address all the concerns raised in the report.
Given the above, it was nearly impossible to imagine a body of church leaders which would not only be representative of this diversity, but also to which the broad spectrum of churches would be prepared to submit. TEASA was opposed to any form of control from the state or its functionaries. It would in TEASA’s view greatly threaten not only religious freedom but also the autonomy of churches. TEASA would instead, request the Committee to give the church an opportunity in the broad sense of the word, to get its own house in order and demonstrate its ability to regulate itself.
Mr K Mileham (DA) said he was impressed by the diversity of organisations that had subscribed to the South African Charter of Religious Rights and Freedoms . He however wanted to know what the legal status of the charter was and what steps had been taken to have it adopted by Parliament in terms of Section 234 of the Constitution.
He noted that the AAFC made lots of comments about the rights of the CRLC to summons, the legality of the CRLC to issue a summons, which indicated some form of bias and so on, and that it was an investigation. AAFC commented on the calibre of the report and quality of reporting. He noted that the Constitution and the CRLC Act was very specific that the CRLC had the power to investigate and to report. The Commission could ask questions on how money is spent and details of religious practices. The Commission specifically had the power to summons anyone in writing to appear before it. There was some information that people were reluctant to come to the Commission and as a result, summons were issued, and as a further consequence, it ended up taking those people to court.
To challenge this report from a legal perspective on the basis of the CRLC power to investigate, make recommendations, and summons anyone, would translate to barking up the wrong tree. He suggested that the real issues should be dealt with. He asked all presenters to focus on whether this was a desirable state of affairs; whether religion should be regulated; and steps to be taken against the commercialisation of religion.
On the legal position of the Charter, Prof Coertzen replied that in the introductory paragraph to the charter, the following notes were made that would serve to answer the question posed to a large extent. “The South African Charter of Religious Rights and Freedoms is subject to the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. The charter builds upon and relies on several provisions of the Bill of Rights as entrenched in the Constitution.”
Section 234 of the Constitution, which allows for additional charters of rights consistent with the Constitution, the charter described in more detail section 15(1) of the Bill of Rights. The organisation would be very grateful if Parliament decides to accept the charter as part of the constitutional structure of South Africa. However, it was wary that the charter would be given to the hands of Parliament to exercise control over all religions in South Africa. The charter was a product of not only the Christian religion, but the Jewish, Muslim, and African indigenous religions. Getting the charter endorsed by Parliament would give the organisation a very firm foundation in South Africa. The organisation was open to suggestions about this.
Mr Mileham sought clarity on whether or not the charter had a legal status at the moment. In other words, was it binding and would there be legal consequences if an individual failed to abide by the charter?
Prof Coertzen replied that SACRRF had been advised that judicial notice would be taken of the charter in any court if churches and religious bodies endorse the charter and make it part of their official documentation.
Prof Malherbe added that from a religious side, the charter had persuasive power, and courts would take judicial notice of it.
Prof Coertzen said it would be a bonus if Parliament endorses the charter.
Ms B Maluleke (ANC) asked if an agreement had been reached on what the intention of the CRLC Report was, especially since the CRLC chairperson kept saying that the intentions of the CRLC was to ensure the prevention of commercialisation of churches or religion and to curb the abuse of people’s beliefs. She asked what could be done to ensure that people’s beliefs were not taken for granted; and what the churches and religious bodies could do about this.
Mr X Ngwezi (IFP) said that the representatives from the church community agree with some intentions of the Commission, one of which was to prevent commercialisation of faith, as well as the prohibition of some actions that happened in the name of the church. However, it seemed there was no agreement on the consultation of the CRLC with religious bodies; as well as the activities and abuses alluded to that were happening throughout the country. He proposed that all religious organisations be given another opportunity to engage extensively on the issues discussed here, as well as on other issues that may arise.
Mr C Matsepe (DA) said that according to the findings of the CRLC, the abuses took place in different areas of the country. The Committee would still meet to discuss further. He agreed that the manner in which the CRLC conducted its consultation has resulted in lots of frustration among religious bodies. He agreed that the entire process should be done afresh in order to embrace all views. He appealed to all religious leaders to try to build and not criticize in their engagements. He asked if the abuses emanated from inequality, unemployment and poverty in the country, noting that the source of such abuses should be reflected upon.
Mr E Mthethwa (ANC) said the objective of the engagement had been achieved. The fundamental concern was the abuse of people’s religious beliefs, and all stakeholders were urged to concentrate on this. In his opinion, the act of challenging the credentials of members of the Commission was incorrect. The stakeholders should understand that the Committee and the state were looking into the issues at hand objectively. All that was needed was for religious bodies to empower the Committee with necessary information that would ensure that all matters were captured accurately for them to be debated upon.
It was obvious that those guilty of the identified abuses were not present at the meeting. The government had a judicial duty to ensure that these issues were addressed. It had no intention of regulating the church. The state was concerned about the way funds were collected from people and how people got abused in the process. It was such scam situations that the state sought to deal with. Both Parliament and the stakeholders must work together to ensure separation of such scammers from the church and religious organisations.
Rev Meshoe (ACDP) sought clarity on his concerns for the freedom of religion and freedom to preach. He asked FOR SA if there was already a forum like the national conference of religious leaders that was proposed. He wanted to know when such forum would be convened to look into the issues affecting Christians. He asked for advice or suggestions to stop the abuses taking place. He asked ACRP if the National Qualifications Framework Act should be applied to churches, and in so doing, whether all churches should be registered. He asked Prof Malherbe to explain less restrictive ways of dealing with the abuses that have been identified.
Prof Sauer was asked to clarify his statement on the inability to criminalise religious practices done voluntarily. When the drinking of petrol started, Rev Meshoe said he met with the Human Rights Commissioners to look into what could be done, and the chairman of the Commission said attempts have been made to open cases against such pastors but the Commission was told that nothing could be done as some of the people drinking petrol were doing so by choice. What could be done in such instances? He asked Mr Moloi if people selling water, oil, and garments in the churches should pay tax. If yes, would this mean that they must all be registered, and if they are not registered, how would the tax officers be aware of their activities? If they are registered, should they be registered as NPOs or how should such churches be registered?
Rev Thivha Lidzhade, chairperson of Church Leaders Empowerment Foundation Africa (CLEFA), an organisation of independent churches, clarified that the CRLC Report was on commercialisation of religion and abuse of people’s beliefs but an in depth consideration of the report shows that the heading should be changed to the commercialisation of Christianity and abuse of Christian beliefs, especially because there was no evidence in the research showcasing sangomas telling people to drink mixtures that have not been researched in any laboratory and yet, people are charged R2 000 for such items that could probably cost R20. There was no report with a focus on other religions asides Christianity. He suggested that the report was slightly biased against Christianity.
He declared that he was a pastor but did not give his church members petrol to drink, neither did he engage in other forms of abuses. In his opinion, the solution suggested by the CRLC was not practical. On the Commission’s organogram, the proposed peer review committee would consist of leaders from different umbrella bodies, especially in the Christian sector. The current number of umbrella bodies in South Africa could only be accommodated at the FNB Stadium. He noted that the Christian faith could not be understood legally because it was a spiritual connection and not a legal one.
He recommended that more thorough investigations should be done and the religious leaders be consulted without bias. He noted the abuses that occurred at initiation schools. He recommended that the Committee should allow the CRLC to conduct thorough consultative consultation with the relevant people before adopting the report.
The Chairperson said that the issue to be addressed was ensuring that the state protects the most vulnerable groups of people. Many people have been abused under the guise of religion. The main thing to be discussed was the way forward on addressing those abuses. Although other concerns raised were important, they did not address the core issue. The leadership of religious organisations should assist the Committee in finding a solution that would address the problems identified.
Mr Convy Baloyi, Kingdom Governors South Africa (KGSA), said that he grew up to become ordained as a minister of the gospel by his pastor, whom he had served for several years in established churches in South Africa, and after going to school to study theology. He took his beliefs very seriously. In terms of age and experience on issues of faith, he was the least of the persons present in the meeting. In stating his opinion, he said that the issues at hand should be separated into things that need to be challenged and stopped. The state should be allowed to protect people from violations to their rights, as long as such violations could be proven and stopped within means of government. He was opposed to the practice of criticism rather than finding ways to solve the problems at hand. He suggested that a piece meal approach should be adopted in addressing the complex matters. He urged stakeholders to direct all ideas to the CRLC.
He disagreed with the proposal for a conference in 2018, stating that the issues that may arise from the current engagement should be directed to the right platforms and then challenged where necessary to ensure that the benefit and outcome of such engagements could be beneficial to all persons.
He proposed that an inclusive engagement must be established going forward. The process for such inclusive approach should however be constructed, people-owned, proclaimed from a platform such as the Portfolio Committee meeting that reaches to all South Africans and if possible, conducted in all languages to foster good working relations.
Mr Swain said that FOR SA has been very concerned and had begun engaging with certain structures to suggest the need for a broad-based national convention of religious leaders, and not just church leaders. In considering self-regulatory, sustainable, scalable solutions owned by the religious community and designed to self-regulate the religious community, having a type of broad-based inclusive process would be required. It was necessary to consider the development of a process for the purpose of developing responsibilities of the religious communities about this.
On when the proposed national conference would be convened, he said that no specific date has been set. The conference was still part of an ongoing discussion. It was however apparent from the submissions made by different organisations that the national conference should be convened in the shortest time possible.
On the question of how to stop the abuses, it was pointed out that the state as the protector of the most vulnerable, had structures in place that were designed to address such abuses. One of the things expected of the church and religious communities was condemnation of areas of abuse whenever such is noticed. It was noted that during the Prophet of Doom incident, FOR SA developed a petition that was subscribed to by almost 100 of the structures it engaged in. The petition we sent out soundly condemned this illegal practice. The net result of this was that the Limpopo Department of Health took the offending pastor and obtained an interdict against him not just for spraying with Doom but for any other similar activity, which if he was found in breach of, would result to him being jailed. It was however, necessary to develop ways of addressing areas of abuses within the religious communities.
Rev Meshoe asked who the convenor of the national religious forum would be.
Mr Swain replied that at the moment FOR SA was not aware that there was a specific convenor. He had engaged with TEASA on this as well, and the SACC was aware of such process and may well engage in it. However, the conference could be convened more quickly if the proposals around it received enough encouragement, particularly from the Portfolio Committee.
On not being able to criminalise religious practices done voluntarily, Prof Sauer said this was a dilemma faced by religious institutions. How can one protect people against themselves and their own conscious choice? The most likely approach would be education.
He clarified on registration of religions, the UN special rapporteur said that while registration could have beneficial effects for those communities wishing to obtain such status, it would be highly problematic if the government rendered registration compulsory by turning it into a sine qua non condition that must be fulfilled for any communitarian enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief. It cannot be reiterated enough that freedom of religion or belief acquired its nature as a universal human right available for all human beings prior to any process of administrative approval. It must be possible for individuals and groups of individuals to practice their religion and belief independently from any official status should they prefer not to obtain such status or if their application for registration has been unsuccessful. The Commission was of the view that all preachers had to be licensed. Such licenses could be withdrawn if they do not behave, and criminal action taken as a last resort. The problem to be addressed was the criminalisation of the manifestation of unregistered yet legitimate religion, for simply manifesting such religion and not necessarily because of any wrongdoing.
Prof Malherbe said that the meeting was evolving into the development of a broad consensus that focused on the need for cooperation amongst religious communities and other institutions. He hoped that the Commission would cooperate with this view to develop the methods that would work for South Africa and would address these abuses effectively.
Prof Malherbe replied that when he referred to less restrictive means, it seemed there was a broad consensus that the proposed recommendations of the Commission maybe not the best route to go, as far as overall registration and regulation by the state was concerned. Instead, there was a need for better self-regulation by religious communities. Religious bodies were enjoined to listen to each other as was being done at this meeting. Education was important. It was critical for people to be better educated about their rights and responsibilities. Section 2 of the charter says that no persons may be forced to believe, what to believe or what not to believe or to act against their convictions. No one should be forced to drink petrol, and people must be educated about this. He suggested that the CRL Commission could play a wonderful role in assisting in this. Every religious institution must take the responsibility to educate its members, pastors and religious leaders. This was the kind of less restrictive means that he was referring to. He emphasized that effective enforcement of laws in the statute books should not be underestimated.
Mr Mdongo said that it was important to get out of the system some things that have been building for so long due to religious institutions not being heard or listened to. He used the illustration of a square drawn on a white paper with a black dot in it to explain that there was a tendency to focus only on the black dot while ignoring the remaining white areas of the square. In other words, it was human nature to focus on the things going wrong and not on things going right. Churches build people; they protect the communities and societies of South Africa. 99% of the churches in South Africa did good. The less than 1% represented the black dot in the middle of the white square. He urged religious bodies not to spend a lot of time focusing on the black dot, instead it should agree on how to remove the dot and move forward with the rest of the square.
Numerous recommendations have been received from various institutions that proved the existence of amazing institutional capability to make those recommendations work. Institutions like the CRLC should help build religion rather subtract from religion by demonising it, as this was what the Commission effectively did. To deal with the abuses, it was necessary to have an institution that would seek to understand the challenges clearly and specifically. The issue with the CRLC Report was that in the absence of a clear definition of commercialisation, it would be impossible to resolve those challenges and understand them thoroughly for the purpose of convincing stakeholders. In the absence of a clear definition of abuse of people’s faith, it would be difficult to deal with attendant issues. It was recommended that CRLC should avoid using methods that would cause division in the religious communities.
On the question of the wrongness of summons, he said that the use of summons was very wrong because the power to use summons was not properly balanced. Although the CRLC Act provided CRLC with the power to subpoena people, the powers should have been used reasonably. The Commission should not have used subpoena as a first point of call, as it depicted insecurity on its part.
Mr Mileham clarified that he did not ask about the wrongness of the summons, but that he wanted clarity on the submission that the summons was illegal when it was not.
The Chairperson said that it has already been explained that the first step was to persuade people to appear before utilising the power to issue subpoenas.
Archbishop Modiri Shole, president of South African Union Council of Independent Churches (SAUCIC), said he represented 25 church federations in South Africa, comprising of more than 3.6 million members with a projection to 5 million. The organisation had six provincial committees within South Africa. It was launched on 29 August 2015 in Braamfontein. Two other provincial committees would be launched in Western Cape and Limpopo. The organisation was just an observer at the meeting but it was necessary to make comments. He noted that SAUCIC was already bring order in the country. He was happy to see members of diversity in social cohesion together under the same roof, despite being under the same body of Christ. The lack of proper policies in place at the border gates was the reason for most foreigners coming in as visitors with license for three months but when they enter the country, they end up marrying the women, after which they put up tents in open spaces, hire a school and open up a church. These people cannot be called to order, as there was no code of conduct or regulations in place for all religious bodies. Vulnerable members seeking blessings and miracles are usually preyed upon. He suggested that CRLC was trying to bring order to religious communities. It was therefore important to focus on accountability and curbing of violation of human rights. If the religious communities do not do anything to stop the abuses, government will and should do something.
Mr Mileham said he was concerned about the outburst against foreigners. Many of the abuses have been carried out by South African pastors. Labelling foreigners would therefore be tantamount to xenophobia. He was concerned that this action had not been called to order. He urged that religion and the abuse of religion by all people should be considered irrespective of whether the people involved were South Africans, Malawians, or from any other country. He noted that there has been repeated mention of the Christian faith and the discussion was not about the Christian faith. It was about all faiths, all religions, and particularly about commercialisation and abuse of religion. He asked the Chairperson to keep the debate on the topic and keep people to the topic.
The Chairperson said that calling a bishop to order would be a difficult thing to do, as religious leaders knew exactly what to say or not to say. He however urged Archbishop Shole to limit his examples to the core issues and not label foreigners as being guilty of abuses.
Archbishop Shole continued that South African pastors were not left out of the issue. The ones who had money amongst them were very pompous and acted like small gods. It was difficult to call them to order.
He said that focus should be placed on two priorities, namely violation of human rights and accountability. He proposed that the government could assist in convening the national convention for all religions where submissions would be made and policies that can accommodate all religious bodies could be developed.
On whether churches should be registered and the National Qualifications Framework Act should be applied to churches, Mr van der Walt replied that the agreement with SAQA from the start was that this professional body would be voluntary and not compulsory. The reason why the professional body was formed was because SAQA approached ACRP to indicate the need for a professional body to be formed. The major reason was because there was a need in the informal church environment for accredited training of pastors without matric or who for many different reasons do not have access to universities, faculties of theologies and seminaries; as well as pastors in need of training without opportunities. The NQF Act provided for implementation of what was known as occupational qualifications under the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations. The formation of a professional body was necessary in order to access those possibilities. This would help to actually stir the development of those qualifications. This was how the entire process started.
In its investigations, ACRP discovered that a lot of research showed that only 10% of about 200 000 pastors in South Africa have had the opportunity of being trained and were in the formal church environment. The implication of this was that an average of 180 000 pastors were in the informal environment and did not have the opportunity for formal training. This was a concern for SAQA and it led to the suggestion for the development of a professional body to begin a training dispensation under the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations for pastors who cannot go to universities. It was found that some of the informal churches needed this as a service to help them formalise their own professions. It was discovered that the pastors in the care environment needed the training to professionalise their profession. The professional body structure was established in a way that it could serve the needs of those who actually need professionalisation. However, ACRP has emphasised that such training would not be made compulsory for churches, spiritual leaders, pastors, and training institutions.
On the question of whether churches selling garment, water and so on should be registered for tax, and whether they should registered as NPOs, Mr Moloi replied that while contesting the phrase ‘commercialisation’, it was important to understand that every developed law must be cross-cutting and not be specifically targeted to a sectarian society. There were laws already in place such as the NPO Act and the PBO provisions within the SARS Act. He suggested that churches or religious groupings in operation should be registered to some degree. However, such church or religious grouping involved in any business may not necessarily have to pay tax according to the SARS provisions of PBOs, as the application of the PBO provisions was applicable to all institutions and not only the church. NPOs were not prohibited from selling anything. They were only prohibited from sharing profits. The CRLC was should not be looking specifically at the church situation in isolation of other NPOs that were making money through fundraising and sale of items. He agreed that the need for yet another platform for consultation and engagement was necessary, as there were still many issues to be discussed for which documents will be produced as evidence.
Christian Family Church (CFC) submission
Dr Johnny Slabbert, CFC Chief Operating Officer, said CFC International (CFCI) was not a denominational church but rather an association of churches comprising over 800 churches worldwide out of which 220 were represented in South Africa. The churches represented over 120 000 members in attendance, with the biggest church being the one in Johannesburg. The church has been preaching the gospel and the word of God for almost 38 years in the community, society and country at large, and has done so scripturally, with integrity and excellence to its members. CFCI Johannesburg has created a place to enable all persons to develop to Christian maturity, as well as to be prepared for the special calling God had for them. CFCI was committed to growing the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, as well at the same time caring individually for each and every member regardless of its size. It fought for the freedom of religion and maintained the integrity of God’s word through the preaching of sound biblical doctrine. It values and supports the role that the church plays in the upliftment of communities and the disadvantaged, striving to make a difference in the life of others. It embraced high moral standards and values, while encouraging people to live according to the instructions of the word of God. CFCI supervised all the other 800 churches associated with it in guidance, compliance, codes of good governance, to the best of its abilities. It set down specific standards in ministry, and ensured the application of the word of God. The CFCI was a responsible organisation, respected worldwide. It recognised that there were incidences of excess and abuse taking place in the name of religion and shared the concerns of the CRL Commission on this. It believed that all people were made in the image of God and therefore, had incredible dignity and worth and were deserving of honour and respect.
Against this background, it commended the CRLC for what it believed to be a bona fide effort to prevent and combat the commercialisation of religion and abuse of people’s belief systems, stating that no person should be allowed to perpetuate harmful and criminal activities in the name of religion. Where this was happening, such persons should be prosecuted and dealt with like any other perpetrator of the law.
He agreed fully with the sentiments of previous presenters. The position of CFCI on commercialization was that it was necessary for it to be defined, in terms of how organisations were organised and/or registered, whether with the CIPC or the Department of Social Development (DSD) as different rules applied in different cases and instances. On the question raised by Rev Meshoe on commercialisation, he said that within DSD and SARS, provision has been made with respect to certain activities that could assist in contributing to the furtherance of churches, not individuals. On abuse, CFCI was against abuse of individuals, and upheld the belief that the law should take its course. As for the solution to these abuses, the NPO Act was sufficient to address such abuses, while the DSD was sufficient in regulating churches. On section 30 of the Income Tax Act, SARS was sufficient to regulate commercialisation of the church.
CFCI had provided over the last 38 years, formal education to each and every person, and ministry that associated with it, giving them the necessary managerial skills, doctrinal skills and educating them in good corporate governance. Secondly, CFCI provided forums and charter agreements to ensure that members were aligned with the laid down requirements. Problems were dealt with immediately and as prescribed in the word of God.
CFCI recommended that a platform should be created, as mentioned by other speakers. Regardless of the uncertainties around the creation of the platform, that platform must consider the improvement and increase in knowledge on how to manage the situation at hand; develop skills needed to prevent these problems in the future; and adjust the attitudes of people within the profession. Even though a consensus has been reached on the platform to be created, it was necessary for religious organisations to begin to take responsibility, and begin to influence their communities, constituencies, and areas where religious organisations could make a difference.
CFCI held the view that religious bodies did not need the government to regulate on its behalf.
Christian Concern Network of the Baptist Union of Southern African (CCNBUSA) submission
Rev Sipho Zondi said he agreed with the submissions made by previous organisations. He mentioned that the Baptist Union celebrated its 140th year in South Africa in the previous week. The work of the union in South Africa has been extensive and it represented several churches in the country. The work done by the CRL Commission was noticed and the intention appreciated.
CCNBUSA agreed that there were problems that have been reported on the abuses carried out in the name of religion. Some have been reported in the media, while some others were reported by word of mouth. However, CCNBUSA requested that the church should not be portrayed as doing nothing or contributing negatively to the country, particularly when the church contributed positively and such contributions were documented.
CCNBUSA said that the investigation carried out by the Commission was not extensive enough to make any informed proposals. The report painted a picture of a bad situation without an extensive research to back up the claims. This has brought about unnecessary tension between the church and the state
On the objective of the Commission to look at commercialisation of religion, the Commission did not spend time in clarifying the meaning of the term ‘commercialisation’. It was expected that clarity be given to this term, otherwise, people would be left to formulate various definitions.
Like previous submissions, CCNBUSA agreed that the existing laws were sufficient to address the current problems. As a matter of fact, a number of religious leaders have been caught and dealt with by the law. Some were already in prison, while some others were attending court cases.
He spoke about the manner in which people were coerced into making submissions to CRLC, noting that CCNBUSA’s view was that religious leaders were generally ready to work with government. Many of the religious bodies would have appeared voluntarily without the Commission having to issue subpoenas. The issuance of such subpoenas was the first cause of tension between religious organisations and the state.
On the licence to preach, CCNBUSA believed that the church was separate from the state, and should be allowed to self-regulate. The Baptist church for instance, licensed its own preachers. The church should be encouraged to self-regulate and issue out its own licenses, especially because churches differed in doctrine, perspectives and so on. It would therefore, be difficult for one body to issue licenses to all churches.
CCNBUSA proposed that the religious sector be allowed to self-regulate. The peer review committee that has been suggested would bring religion under the control of the state. It therefore, proposed that the report should be rejected by the Committee and the Commission be asked to carry out more consultations. It was proposed that the state should not interfere in the activities of religious institutions.
Association of Christian Media (ACM) submission
Mr Rudie van Heerden, a member of ACM for the last 21 years, who had served two times on the board and was a fulltime missionary involved with media, said that the ACM was a non-profit network of Christian media organisations that shared a vision of reaching people with the gospel. The ACM strived to be a unifying force that fosters efficient, effective and sustainable Christian media organisations for greater representation of the Christian worldview within the secular media. ACM’s vision was to extend God’s kingdom, inspire, serve and support Christian media in Southern Africa. The ACM currently has over 120 members, comprising of radio stations, print media, TV channels, electronic media, content providers, churches and individuals involved in mainstream media.
ACM believed that freedom of religion was a matter for all religions, all faiths and for Christianity in general, impacting all spheres of life, and including Christian media. ACM worked with and was in relationship with the church across all denominations, and as such, the concerns of the church were its concerns. Uncertainties as to how the proposed structures and legislation would and could affect workers and co-workers within Christian media was a concern for ACM. As a chapter 9 institution in terms of section 181 of the Constitution, the CRL Rights Commission had the responsibility similar to other chapter 9 institutions, to guard and protect the rights of the citizens of South Africa. The mandate of the CRL Rights Commission in section 185 of the Constitution stipulated that it should “… promote respect for the rights of cultural, religious and linguistic communities”. The CRLC rights Act 19 of 2002 empowered the CRL Rights Commission to monitor, investigate and research any issue concerning the rights of cultural, religious and linguistic communities. In the case of religion, one such right that the CRL Rights Commission needed to monitor, investigate and research according to their mandate and the CRLC Act, was the right to freedom of religion.
The difficult part was what should be done if it seemed that the institution that should stand up for and protect the right of freedom of religion was in itself the possible instigator for the violation of that right it was supposed to protect or guard over, while at the same time putting the religious community or communities whom it was expected to guard over and protect in an extremely fragile position; a position that has the potential to lead to greater and more devastating abuses of religious people and communities than even the abuses investigated and researched that led to the report under discussion.
Varied alleged abuses of religion that was reported led to the investigation of the CRLC and this was commended. Many of the allegations that constituted criminal or civil offences under existing South African law could be remedied through education about, and enforcement of existing law. Another factor that has been ignored was the thousands and thousands accumulating to millions of 100% lawful, life changing and lifesaving religious interventions taking place right across the country in all communities; interventions that gave hope to people and was being ministered through various means including welfare services, health and medical services, education, media, and so on. All those interventions contributed to a better life and a better future, and they played an integral role in making South Africa the amazing country it was. If these interventions were weighed against the alleged unlawful abuses mentioned in the CRLC rights Commission’s report, it would become difficult to understand the motivation for additional regulations that would infringe on the constitutional rights and freedoms of commended and respected law abiding religious individuals and organisations. It therefore, seemed that the proposed regulation of religion as set apart in the CRL Rights Commission Report may be a total unnecessary overreach. The Commission should be careful not to create a world and an environment where law abiding people would be criminalized for doing the right thing.
The CRL Rights Commission was an institution of the state. Control by the CRLC over religion would be nothing less than state control. The size of the pool of people that were summoned (only 83) for those investigations was a very small pool of people if measured against the millions of religious people in South Africa. Another concern was how the people were summoned to appear before the CRLC. Over and above that, hundreds of submissions with valid concerns to the CRL Rights Commission in response to the preliminary report did not move the CRL Rights Commission to reconsider or make amendments before submitting this final report to the Parliament.
The lack of definition of who a religious practitioner was and how wide it stretched was of great concern to ACM. It was necessary to clarify whether religious practitioners included normal radio presenters, journalists, television presenters that develop and present Christian radio and television content, or print magazines, and so on. ACM agreed that the alleged abuses exist and was grateful to the CRLC for bringing it to the attention of religious organisations. It fully recognised that the abuses must be addressed but not in the way that the Commission has proposed. Information and education seemed to be the more effective way.
ACM was in favour of a new round of talks and consultation aimed at addressing the concerns. All submissions that have been made at the meeting have been of great help and the ACM and its members desired to be a part of the consultative process. It was willing to play a significant role on informing and education through media. The abuses reported could be addressed effectively through media but the church should work together with ACM and vice versa.
Anglican Catholic Church (ACC) submission
Rev Michael Williams said that the ACC was an international denomination that started in the United States in 1977. The church was orthodox, Catholic and very traditional. The ACC was a little concerned that the legislation proposed to be passed seems to be very draconian. It did not entirely agree with the way things were happening. It agreed with the previous submissions made by different organisations.
ACC would not like to see South Africa turn out as communist China where people are being directed on how to conduct religious activities. All ministers of ACC were scrutinised both physically and psychologically. The ACC objected to having state control of any form for the church.
Northern Conference of the Seventh Day Adventist (NCSDA) submission
Adv J Strudan said that the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) church was a denomination of about 19 million members worldwide and in South Africa, over 140 000 members. In any event, the church was highly structured and self-regulated.
He stated that the implementation of the proposed recommendations would be unconstitutional if accepted, as it would infringe on the constitutional rights of freedom of religion provided for in section 18. Ultimately, the state would control the doctrine to be adopted in the proposed structure submitted. The SDA has a vested right in the matter, especially because it had been discriminated against in the past and prosecuted on the basis of what was referred to as blue laws. Blue laws relate to the keeping of religious day either on a Sunday or Saturday and the norms of the SDA have been attached to this. The SDA believed in the imminent advent of Christ and the seventh day Sabbath. Implementation of the proposed recommendations would have the effect of discrimination against the SDA.
He urged the Committee to consider the submission of the SDA in a meticulous way. On the way forward on how to resolve these issues, he noted that existing laws if properly applied, would address the concerns. Education was however, needed but should be addressed to specific groups. He suggested the establishment of a special prosecuting section within the police to properly investigate these matters; and a proper prosecuting authority from the NPA.
New Apostolic Church of Southern African (NACSA) submission
Pastor Robert Worship said that the NACSA was over 150 years old and had a global membership of eight million and 800 000 linked to Southern Africa, out of which 500 000 members were in South Africa and spread across 1 300 congregations in all provinces.
NAC registered its strongest objection to any interference, limitation and/or eradication of religious freedom. It recognised that a measure of coordination and regulation could benefit the entire religious community, and noted the concerns raised by previous speakers.
It expressed concerns around the quality and the academic merit of the research conducted which formed input to the published report. It was concerned about the small number and the representation of the group that was interviewed, which did not represent all denominations and religions. It was concerned about the ‘willing versus the perception to be under duress’ participation by some of the respondents.
NAC believed that a consultative process should be engaged upon, one which would be generally collective to all religious bodies. It believed that the legal status of churches should be examined and churches should ensure that they were appropriately registered and properly managed. A greater focus should be placed on a separation of ecclesiastical spiritual issues from the legal and the organisational aspects of the church. The adoption of appropriate codes of good governance should apply to all churches, even though churches were very different and did not constitute a normal organisation. International best practices should be examined. The report should clarify the meaning of sound financial governance and commericialisation of religion.
NAC was of the view that churches should provide details of their internal regulatory bodies, oversight bodies and disciplinary procedures to ensure self-regulation.
Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) submission
A representative of the church noted that the DRC was the oldest Christian church in South Africa, and though it had made many mistakes in its history, it always strived to carry out its activities in the light of the word of God. DRC agreed with the submission made by the SA Council for Religious Rights and Freedoms (CRRF). It identified with the CRLC Report, as well as with the South African Charter of Religious Rights and Freedoms, which has now been published as an official document of the DRC.
Freedom of religion was very important for the church and it was important for all South Africans to enjoy this right. Therefore, DRC submitted to cooperating with all churches and religions in finding a way out of the dilemma identified by the CRLC Commission, which was the commercialisation of religion and the abuse of religion.
The DRC suggested that all religions in South Africa should formulate the obligations it deemed fit for religions to comply with in the country. This would be a way to address the problems identified by the CRLC. All persons present at the meeting were challenged to read the charter and look at the notes on the charter, with the purpose of identifying the obligations that religions in South Africa should comply with.
Alliance of Pentecostal and Charismatic Church (APCC) submission
Mr Samuel Ndlovu, APCC national spokesperson of APCC, said that the APCC agreed with what other presenters have said. Some of the criticisms made during previous submissions might be as a result of the understanding of religious organisations on the constitutional mandate of the CRLC, as well as the fact that religious organisations expected more from the Commission. Religious organisations were disappointed about how the issue on ground has been handled. In their view, it should have been an all-inclusive consultative process that involved everyone and the churches at large. The church in South Africa was doing a great job, but the report submitted painted a picture that religion in South Africa was in a state of anarchy. This was not true; there were only a few incidents. The APCC for instance, ministered in townships, and has not recorded any of the abuses reported. Credit must be given to the church and things that pertain to religion must be handled with caution. Men of God should be respected.
He noted that APCC has held summits, workshops, and seminars where SARS and DSD were invited, as well as accountants for the purpose of empowering member churches on competent financial management and other administrative issues. APCC had invited the chairperson of the CRL Commission to two such meetings.
The APCC was not in favour of regulation of religion. Instead, it proposed that the report should be sent back to the CRLC and CRLC should take the lead in bringing all religious bodies together in order to have an all-inclusive consultative forum or conference where issues can be discussed further.
Ms C Dudley (ACDP) appreciated all the organisations and churches for their submission, noting that the submissions have been helpful in getting a broader picture of the matters at hand. The like-mindedness of the organisations was very encouraging. It was great not to have a fixed position on matters because the Committee really wants to find out the position of South Africans on how the issues on ground affected them. This would assist in finding right solutions for everyone. She was really grateful for the enormous efforts of all organisations and churches present at the meeting, as well as with the depth of leadership in South Africa and in the religious sector.
Mr Mthethwa said he did not hear APCC condemn those perpetrating abuses in the name of religion. He asked if APCC had a programme of action for dealing with those problems.
Mr Mileham raised a concern about the CRLC presentation to the Portfolio Committee the previous week, which alluded to the fact that some of the organisations present at the current meeting supported the proposals under discussion. This included organisations such as SACC, TEASA, and so on. His concern was that the submissions made at the meeting proved that these organisations were not in support of the CRLC proposals, and this amounted to a misleading of Parliament. He urged the Chairperson to take firm action against the CRLC, its chairperson and the presenters for misleading the Committee.
Mr Mileham noted that there was a broad consensus that the recommendations of the report were out of line with the Constitution, out of line with the general sentiment of the religious sector in the country and as such the report should be rejected by the Committee and sent back to the CRLC to think about how better to manage this particular situation; and how better to manage people who misuse their religious authority over their followers. He suggested that the CRLC proposals were not the right way to address the concerns. He agreed to the suggestion of a national consultative forum to be convened, as this would allow all the religious bodies from all religions to come together to formulate a way forward. There were serious questions begging for answers, some of which included what were the tools at the disposal of religious organisations; who religious organisations should report to; how they should take action; how the state should prosecute and so on. However, setting the CRLC as the final arbiter was not the right way to solve these problems. He recommended that the Committee should reject the report and suggest to CRLC to have a relook into the matter in consultation religious organisations.
The Chairperson said that the Committee would have its own time to look at the totality of the report and then make an informed pronouncement.
Mr Matsepe wished that the CRLC was present at the meeting for it to have a holistic picture of what was being presented here. [He, however, received confirmation that CRLC representatives were present at the meeting]. He supported Mr Mileham on the need to have a consultative forum in due course.
Mr J Dube (ANC) appreciated all the religious leaders for making submissions, noting that some of them have opened the minds of Committee members. He assured religious organisations present at the meeting that the Committee would look into the concerns raised so far.
Mr Mthethwa said that the Committee should correct the way it handled reports like the one under review. He noted that it was very unusual for a report to be debated the way the CRLC Report had been debated. The practice was for the Committee to listen, make comments and ask questions around engagements on a public report. He urged Members of the Committee not to paint the picture of taking a resolution on the report at the meeting. Members should refrain from dealing with the report as if conclusive decisions could be made at the meeting. He disagreed with Mr Mileham that CRLC misled Parliament in its presentation.
The Chairperson clarified that Mr Mileham was only giving notice that the issues alluded to would be discussed at a later meeting of the Committee. The Committee cannot speak on behalf of CRLC. The CRLC would have to speak for itself and account to the Committee. The purpose of the current meeting was to get information on a broad level to identify the areas that should be addressed, after which the Committee would refine the report and formulate a view on the outcomes of the engagements.
Mr Mileham said the Committee was in no position to refine the report, as it was the CRLC Report and not the Committee’s. If anyone was going to refine it, it must be the CRLC. The Committee could only accept or reject the report. He said that Mr Mthethwa was wrong about his approach on that matter. He noted that the CRLC put up a slide at its presentation that said the aforementioned religious bodies supported the proposals around commercialisation of religion. The chairperson of the CRLC categorically stated that those organisations supported CRLC findings and recommendations. But the submissions made today have proven the contrary, and proved that Parliament had been misled. It was therefore important for CRLC to account for this act.
The Chairperson said that members would have their time to discuss these matters. The slide alluded to would be viewed at the next meeting.
A CRLC representative said that CRLC would be responding to issues the following day to clarify some of the misinterpretations and misconceptions of the religious organisations.
Mr Matsepe said the Committee has learnt a lot from the submissions. He has personally realised that the religious terrain is a very dangerous one for politicians. These submissions have opened up the magnitude of the problem that CRLC was dealing with. The Committee was happy that a background has been given to the problem at hand, to assist in making meaningful contributions around the report.
Mr Michael Williams asked if there was any representation of foreign churches at the meeting.
The Chairperson replied the religious leaders would look into this as there were very difficult issues in that regard. There were many points raised during the submissions that the Committee would take into consideration.
In responding to Mr Mthethwa’s question, Mr Ndlovu said that the APCC was very vocal, and has been communicating with CRLC. An example was the press statement that APCC made during the ‘Prophet of Doom incident. Overall, the APCC was very vocal about the abuse of religion.
The Chairperson thanked all religious organisations for the contributions and submissions made. The Committee would look into them and formulate its view based on real informed submissions. The Committee would engage further with religious organisations on matters discussed and others that may arise. He urged the organisations to accept invitations from the Committee whenever they are called, and he appreciated their constructive engagement.
The meeting was adjourned.