More than 800 delegates attended a historic, national summit of religious leaders at Rhema Church, Randburg, yesterday to address the need for a self-regulation process to prevent religious abuses.
The vast majority of the leaders represented the Christian church, with most of the major denominations, independent and indigenous structures well represented.
The event was first announced by the CRL Rights Commission in October last year when they appointed Pastor Ray McCauley to lead this meeting in his role as co-chair of the National Religious Leaders Council of South Africa, an inter-faith structure set up under the Zuma presidency.
Many Christian leaders were wary, ahead of the summit, because although the recommendations in the CRL’s report on the “Commercialisation of Religion and the Abuse of People’s Belief Systems” were rejected after extensive discussions and submissions to the COGTA Parliamentary Portfolio Committee, the commission continued to target the Church, in particular, with a view to imposing some form of state regulation on the faith sector.
The CRL’s approach has caused serious concern because of the threat posed to the constitutional right of freedom of religion, conscience and belief.
These concerns were reinforced in the opening address of yesterday’s summit by CRL Chair Mrs Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, who warned church leaders that if they failed to take on the responsibility of dealing with the issues identified in the CRL’s Report, the government would take over.
She further cautioned the delegates to “look what has happened in other countries” where this has taken place (and where serious erosion of freedom of religion has occurred). Many of the delegates immediately expressed strong opposition to both the procedural irregularities that marred the organisation of the summit, as well as the threatening tone of the CRL.
The end result was an overwhelming consensus that the religious community do not want any further engagement with, or input from, the CRL on this matter.
“The religious community has made it clear that they have taken ownership of the process and that there is a firm commitment to address the issues raised by the CRL,” said FOR SA Executive Director Michael Swain. “We believe that government would be well advised to take note of the sentiment of the religious community, and to allow it the time and space to resolve the issues in this area without further intervention.”
The meeting resolved that it would not be held hostage by the timelines prescribed by the CRL. Instead, the task team who lead the meeting will be augmented by others with a view to implementing a broad-based and consultative process at local, provincial and national levels to develop solutions by and for the religious community.
The meeting was favourably inclined towards a greater level of accountability in the form of some kind of self-regulation and potentially a Code of Conduct to which religious organisations may subscribe.
FOR SA believes that yesterday’s developments mark a significant and positive step forward and thanks those who participated in the meeting, who we strongly encourage to continue to engage with and support the process leading up to another 3-day Summit in or about October 2019.