Religion has always been a hot talking point in South Africa, and no more so than at the moment when the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities is probing harmful religious practices in the country.
Freedom of religion is instituted in the Constitution of South Africa. Everyone has the right to attend a church of one's own choice, the right to practise one's own religion -- whether it be African traditional belief, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism or Christianity.
Pastor Paseka "Mboro'' Motsoeneng is among the charismatic pastors who have crossed swords with the CRL Commission, which recommended last June that religious leaders be registered to protect vulnerable people from harmful or exploitative practices.
Speaking to HuffPost SA, Pastor Mboro of the Incredible Happenings Ministries, lambasted the commission. "The commission is biased and they are acting outside of their jurisdiction and boundaries in this particular instance," he said.
"The commission's role is to ensure the protection of all people and deal with anything that is wrong. They speak of religion and yet they are specifically attacking charismatic churches. There are many religions in this country and yet the CRL is only attacking the Christian faith. Is it only Christianity that is so corrupt and so bad, more so than all the other religions?"
The chairwoman of the commission, Thoko Mkhwanazi Xaluva, has opened a criminal case against Pastor Mboro, saying she has been repeatedly threatened and intimidated by Motsoeneng on public platforms. He has allegedly demanded she "kneel, cry and polish" his shoes and allegedly threatened to spray "holy'' water on her.
In reference to the CRL Commission's criminal case against him, the pastor said he had done nothing wrong. "My question is, what about the commission itself, which has commissioners who are gobelas?" He said commission members practised traditional faith practices such as ukugcaba abantu [cut people] and ukubhula [throwing bones]. He said: "They have people have to pay for that... Isn't that commercialisation? People buy umuthi that they nyanga [heal] people with, and they charge people copious amounts of money to train to be sangomas. Is this better in juxtaposition to people eating grass? Are all churches giving people grass? No! The commission is making other religions appear better than Christianity."
Commercialisation of religion
Launching an investigation into the commercialisation of religion, CRL Rights Commission chairperson, Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xalavu, said: "We are launching an investigative study on the commercialisation of religion and the abuse of people's belief systems in terms of when these institutions are being run, how are they being run, where is their funding going into, who collects how much and what do they do with the money, where does the money eventually go to, what are the governing principles that are there."
The commission released a report recommending that religious leaders are regulated in the country in order to protect the abuse of people's belief systems.
The commission wants access to Pastor Mboro's financial records to determine whether his Incredible Happenings Ministries in Katlehong, Ekurhuleni, is run for commercial gain.
This begs many questions. Such as, what are the legalities around the activities of church leaders and can one press charges when it is found that religious leaders are crossing the boundaries of "reasonable" Christianity? Reports of church leaders spraying Doom into the eyes of their congregation and feeding them snakes have shocked the nation in recent months.
Furthermore, what can be done from a legal point of view to ensure that congregants are protected and their rights not infringed upon? Freedom is a broad term, and when do the limitations of these freedoms come into play? Surely when one's right is infringed by the right of another to practice their religion, a problem arises. The CRL Commission has the mandate to ensure that everyone's right is protected.
5 church incidents
With the escalating rise of churches in SA every day, there have been myriad issues which have come up with the manner in which certain pastors have led their congregants in spirituality. There have been reports of pastors who have encouraged their congregants to do unusual or potentially harmful things in the name of drawing closer to God.
1. Pastor Lesego Daniel of Rabboni Centre Ministries made his congregation eat grass.
2. Then there was the 'Prophet of Doom', Prophet Lethebo Rabalago, who claimed that the pesticide called Doom can heal people.
3. Prophet Penuel Mnguni of the End Times Disciples Ministries in Soshanguve, is said to have fed snakes to the congregation and had also made headlines for asking members to remove their clothes before praying for them.
4. Prophet Theo Bongani Maseko, of the Breath of Christ Ministries in Daveyton, had told his congregants to consume motor oil during a church service.
5. Prophet Rufus Phala, of AK Spiritual Christian Church in Makgodu, Limpopo, made his congregants drink Dettol in December 2016, saying that drinking Dettol would cure his congregation of their ailments.
While it may be true that there are many atrocities that have been committed across all religions, the fact remains that there is no place for any religious leader to use these practices in the name of "healing" their congregants.
One thing is clear. There should be some kind of order within the religious sector, however, one of the hardest things to regulate is a belief as it is subjective to an individual. The conversation then should be how does one protect the rights of all South Africans whilst maintaining the separation of church and state as well as guarantee that there is a professional body which ensures that the religious sector is held to account without necessarily regulating the ministerial profession.