The CRL Rights Commission should remember that its mandate is to protect the freedom of religious communities in South Africa and not to regulate them, says the Nelson Mandela Bay Church Leaders Network.
The church leaders say, in an open letter, that they are deeply concerned about “what appears to be a potential overreach of their [the CRL’s] mandate and inconsistency in their application.
Referring to recent testimony of rape and abuse of power in the Omotoso trial in Port Elizabeth, they say that offenders should be prosecuted. They also agree that the CRL should investigate reports of abuse of religious freedoms and refer offenders to SAPS and judicial authorities.
Noting that pastors accused of illegal practices such as feeding grass, petrol, snakes and pesticide to congregants have been convicted of crimes or are facing trials.
But the majority of churches and denominations in the country are law-abiding and respect the rights and dignity of their people.
“We therefore call on the CRL to stay within the ambit of their constitutional mandate,” says the letter which is signed by 16 senior church leaders in NMB.
The leaders say they are alarmed at a recent, unqualified call by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Women in the Presidency for the blanket regulation of religion, which was made following a meeting between the committee and the CRL chair Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluvu on October 30 at parliament.
Accusing the CRL of inconsistency, the church leaders’ letter notes that two weeks ago Mkhwanazi-Xaluvu verbally endorsed a process of religious leaders exploring self regulation, as recommended by the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) in February when they turned down the CRL’s recommendation for the state regulation of religion. Now she seems to have changed her mind, they say.
The church leaders say there have been significant developments in the arena of self regulation by religious groupings in SA, including an initiative of the South African Council For Religious Rights and Freedoms (SACFRRF).
The CRL’s inconsistency is also evident from a recent announcement by the chair that she had handed over the process of finding solutions to the abuse and criminal activity in the religious sector to the National Religious Leaders Forum (NRLF) under Pastor Ray McCauley, says the open letter.
While respecting the need to bring religious offenders to book, the NMB church leaders ask the government and CRL to stay within their constitutional mandate for the freedom to pursue a proper consultative process as provided for in the constitution, say the leaders.
The open letter is signed, on behalf of the NMB Church Leaders Network, by:
Pastor Daan Botha: Harvest Christian Church
Dean Dudley Greenshields: Vicar General Anglican Church of PE
Bishop Jacob Freemantle: Methodist Church of SA (Grahamstown District)
Reverend Andile George: Moderator Presbyterian Church (Central & Southern Cape)
Apostle Neville Goldman: Ebenezer International
Bishop Mvusi Gwam: Bishop Kingdom Embassy Ethiopian Episcopal Church
Reverend Howard Hans: Chairperson Metro SACC
Dr Bukelwa Hans: Provincial Vice President of the SACC
Pastor Mary-Rose Jacobs: Secretary NMB Religious Leaders Desk
Bishop Mlungiseleli Koliti: Ethiopian Episcopal Church
Reverend Themba Mahuwa: Branch Secretary SACC: NMB Metro Branch
Reverend Danie Mouton: Director Synod Eastern Cape DRC
Dr Dave Pedersen: National Director Vineyard Churches SA
Pastor Russell Viljoen: Chairperson NM Bay Church Leaders Group
Pastor Johannes Welskit: Regional Leader EC AFM
Bishop Vincent Zungu: Catholic Diocese PE
Click here to read the complete open letter