PRESS RELEASE: 27 February 2018
For immediate distribution
BLAME SHIFTING AROUND THE NGCOBO DEATHS
Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) is appalled at the recent killing of five police officers by members of the Mancoba Seven Angels Ministry cult, the subsequent shoot out at their “church” and the discovery of over 100 young girls who were allegedly used as sex slaves.
The CRL Rights Commission (CRL) has responded to the killings at the Ngcobo police station by saying that, if Parliament had given the Commission the power to regulate the religious community, the deaths could have been prevented. However, the Department of Social Development of the Eastern Cape alerted the CRL to the cult as far back as 2016, after the Department had rescued 18 children from the cult. According to the CRL Chairperson Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, 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.
FOR SA believes it is necessary and appropriate for the CRL to explain to Parliament, to whom they are ultimately accountable, why they failed to take the necessary action they are empowered to take in terms of the CRL Act, to report these criminal and otherwise unlawful activities which they clearly had particular knowledge of. 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.
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. 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 therefore supports the findings of the COGTA Parliamentary Portfolio Committee in its report and recommendations (on the CRL’s Report), that there are “enough existing laws that could deal with the prevailing religious challenges”, 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.
For more information, contact:
Executive Director, FOR SA
Cell: 072 270 1217