FOR SA supports call for Ngcobo commission of inquiry

Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) supports the CRL’s call for the institution of a commission of inquiry into the Ngcobo tragedy, says FOR SA in a press release.

According to weekend news reports CRL chairperson Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said her commission decided on Friday to propose an inquiry to establish who should be held accountable for what happened in Ngcobo.

Noting news reports that girls as young as 12 years old were being used as sex slaves by the Seven Angels cult leaders, FOR SA says it is important to understand how such a tragedy could have happened — especially given  evidence that various state institutions, including the CRL, were aware of the cult’s illegal activities since 2016, but that no action was apparently taken to prevent further wrongdoing or harm.

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Commenting on Mkhwanazi-Xaluva’s observation that if the CRL had been granted the power to license (and therefore control) all religion and religious activity in South Africa, cults like the Seven Angels would never exist, FOR SA says it is ludicrous to expect criminal organisations such as the Seven Angels cult to abide by the laws of the country — hence the need for law enforcement to enforce existing laws.

“Our Constitution allows you to believe in the man in the moon and to worship him by eating cheese at night and you can even persuade others to join you”, says Michael Swain, Executive Director of FOR SA. “You are entitled to follow your beliefs, but you are not – and never have been – free to break the laws of South Africa in the process.  That was clearly happening in the case of the Seven Angels cult”.

There is a grave danger to religious freedom and freedom of expression in general when the state is empowered to decide which beliefs are valid or not, says the FOR SA press release. It says FOR SA, together with the vast majority of South Africa’s faith community, opposed the CRL’s request that it be granted the power to be “the final arbiter of religion” (as proposed on p 48 of the CRL’s Final Report), because it is contrary to the fundamental right to religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution. Section 15 of the Constitution assures everyone the right to believe and to practise their beliefs, and the Constitutional Court has further ruled that even if such belief is “bizarre, irrational or illogical”, it is nevertheless valid and protected under law, says FOR SA.

“Even if parliament had agreed to limit these fundamental rights by adopting the CRL’s recommendations, and in the highly unlikely event that a criminal organisation such as the Seven Angels would have applied to the CRL for licensing, the existing laws (which makes practices such as keeping sex slaves, and keeping children from school, illegal) would still have to be enforced.  And since the lack of enforcement of existing laws doubtless contributed to the tragic events at Ngcobo, it remains clear that the root of the problem is a lack of capacity or will to enforce existing laws, not because there is a legal deficiency,” concludes the press release.

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