After three more people drowned in Soweto less than a month after 14 people drowned in the Jukskei River, is it time churches’ practices are tempered?
Criminologist Prof Jaco Barkhuizen said South African churches had to be regulated.
“Small churches with these extreme beliefs are a national security issue,” he said. Barkhuizen said this was the second drowning incident recently.
“These pastors exploit their flock as badly as self-proclaimed prophet Bushiri. We have pastors using their influence to make people drink petrol and now we have pastors taking people to overflowing rivers for baptisms, knowing well that a river in flood is not in place to baptise someone.
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“You would think they would learn from the previous incidents, yet it is done over and over,” he said.
Barkhuizen said the South African Council of Churches (SACC) had to start going after these pastors.
“We need to have the qualifications checked and make sure, in the case of those who get tax exemption as a religious facility, that those exemptions are used for the better of the communities and congregants, not just for enriching the pastors,” he said.
Mpiyakhe Mkholo, spokesperson for the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission), said the practice of a person’s faith should always ensure the protection and preservation of one’s life and dignity.
Mkholo said it was the commission’s mandate to protect and promote the rights of cultural, religious, and linguistic communities and their right to exercise their faith and practise their rituals, such as water baptisms.
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“The commission cautions that the practice of these rights has to be accompanied by greater levels of responsibility on the part of the leaders.
“Moreover, the exercise of these rights and the practice of a person’s faith should always ensure the protection and preservation of one’s life and dignity,” he said.
Commission chair Prof David Mosoma appealed to all leaders and members of cultural, religious, and linguistic communities to ensure rituals were done in a safe environment where the sanctity of life was always paramount.
Apostolic Faith Mission Church in Hatfield’s pastor, Amanda Mitchell, said historically people have been baptised in rivers and streams.
“It’s an age-old practice and celebrated as a big occasion in biblical times,” she explained. Mitchell said regulating the church would be difficult and added that the pastor or leader was responsible for the congregants.
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But she said it was evident practices were taking place that were irrational and not in line with the scriptures.
“How would you regulate the church? There are so many churches popping up like mushrooms and every church has its theology.
“Some of the theology works, but others don’t,” she said. “Where will we draw the line on what needs to be regulated and what not?
“And where do we get a respectable body that is accommodating to regulate the church and its leaders?”
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