The recent cult killings in Ngcobo could potentially have been averted, had the CRL Rights Commission reported their concerns to the law enforcement agencies in 2016, says Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) in a media release today.
Responding to reports that the CRL says the tragedy could have been prevented had parliament given the commission power to regulate the religious community, FOR SA says it believes the CRL needs to explain to parliament why it failed to report unlawful activities of the Seven Angels Ministry cult which it knew about.
Meanwhile CRL chairperson Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said yesterday that she was taking the matter to the Constitutional Court after parliament condemned her comments holding it responsible for the Ngobo killings, reports News 24. Recently the COGTA Parliamentary Portfolio Committee recommended to parliament that the CRL’s request for powers to regulate religion be denied as there were enough laws in place to deal with religious challenges.
In today’s press release FOR SA says the Department of Social Development of the Eastern Cape alerted the CRL to the cult as far back as 2016, after it had rescued 18 children from the cult. It notes that Xaluva has said she subsequently visited and interviewed cult leaders, and as a result had “serious concerns” that this was a “high risk” and a “ticking time bomb”.
“In the circumstances, the CRL was evidently aware — in 2016 already – of the cult’s criminal and/or potentially harmful activities, and had the opportunity to alert SARS, SAPS and other law enforcement agencies to their concerns, ranging from dubious financial dealings to child trafficking.
“Had the CRL reported their concerns to the law enforcement agencies at that stage already, the incident could potentially have been averted,” says FOR SA.
“According to section 5(1)(k) of the CRL Act, the CRL may ‘bring any relevant matter to the attention of the appropriate authority or organ of state, and, where appropriate, make recommendations to such authority of organ of state in dealing with such a matter.’
“If any of the cult leaders had wilfully hindered or obstructed the commission in conducting such an investigation, they would have been guilty of a criminal offence, possibly facing up to a year in prison for this alone under section 41(b) of the same Act. It is therefore clear that parliament had already given the CRL both the power, and laid on them the duty, to deal with such matters,” says FOR SA.
Following exhaustive meetings conducted by parliament with the religious community last year, there was unanimous consensus that the issues identified in the CRL’s Report on the “Commercialisation” of Religion were largely already crimes which should be dealt with by the proper application and enforcement of existing laws, says the press release.
One of the recommendations presented by FOR SA, was that the CRL should consider strengthening its capacity to exercise the powers granted to it in terms of their Act, since freedom of religion can never be an excuse or a cover for criminal activity and that this should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
FOR SA says it supports the COGTA parliamentary portfolio committee’s recommendations (on the CRL’s Report), that there are enough laws to deal with religious issues, while recognising that one of the loopholes is “lack of enforcement”,
“We further endorse and support COGTA’s recommendation that a national consultative conference should be convened to give a platform to discuss challenges in the religious sector, and that a charter for self-regulation and a ‘code of conduct should be developed by and for the religious sector
“FOR SA also fully approves the recognition by COGTA, in keeping with Section 15 of the constitution, that it is not the function of the state (or indeed the CRL as an institution of state) to regulate religion. We therefore welcome these steps and look forward to further interaction between the state and the religious sector to ensure that the correct balance is achieved where laws are strengthened (where necessary) and enforced, without encroaching on legitimate religious freedoms.”
According to News 24 Mkhwanazi-Xaluva has said she would approach the Constitutional Court for a declaratory order to determine whether religious regulation was within parliament’s constitutional mandate, following the Ngcobo massacre last week.
“No one listened to us. This could have been avoided. We told them we cannot have a sector that is not regulated.”
On Cogta’s response to the CRL’s proposals, she reportedly said: They are doubting the constitutionality of religious regulation so we will go to the Constitutional Court to obtain a declaratory order.
“This is not about the church, this is about individuals, and the court will determine whether regulation is within the constitutional framework.”