The South African Council of Churches this week expressed concern at reports that government is considering stricter coronavirus lockdown regulations over the weekend and in Cape Town this morning a group of pastors are marching to Parliament to demand that churches be allowed to operate at full capacity.
Last week, expectations of a further easing of regulations on religious gatherings were high, following what was described as a postive meeting between Cyril Ramaphosa and religious leaders who asked him to open up religious gatherings to 50% of the capacity of venues,
But the outlook has changed — at least for the Easter weekend — after National Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize’s has warned that strict precautionary measures will be taken over the Easter weekend to prevent potential coronavirus super spreader events.
Mkhize’s statement comes as experts advised government to put the country under a stricter lockdown level for the Easter weekend that would be eased thereafter.
They have warned that a third wave of coronavirus infections could hit South Africa after the holiday period.
Earlier this morning Apostle Siniko Nxesi of Pastors Against Church Closures said a group of church leaders were meeting at the Cape Pensinsula University of Technology at 10am to march to Parliament.
The marchers are demanding that churches be allowed to operate at full capacity and that no restrictions be imposed on them over the Easter weekend.
Nxesi was also a leader of the group’s previous march to Parliament on February 5 to reject eased regulations which lifted the total ban on religious gatherings but limited attendance to 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors.
On February 28 the president announced that – because of the significant drop in active COVID-19 cases – the entire country would be moving to Level 1. Regulations were subsequently adjusted to permit religious gatherings with up to 100 people (indoors) and 250 people (outdoors) or 50% of capacity in smaller venues.
But, mindful of the possibility of stricter measures being re-imposed at any time and a concern that the reasoning and basis upon which government can lawfully restrict religious gatherings needs to be established, several organisations, including Freedom of Religion South Africa, the South African National Christian Forum, Solidariteit Helpende Hand NPC and the Muslim Lawyers Association, are going ahead with High Court applications challenging the basis of the regulations. The cases are not expected to be heard before May.
Today marks one year since SA was placed under hard lockdown. Last year churches were closed over Easter and many Christians have been keenly anticipating celebrating this high point in the Christian calendar with fellow believers this year.