PRESS RELEASE: 2 March 2018

For immediate distribution

CRL IS FAR FROM “MEANINGLESS” AND “POWERLESS”

On Thursday, 1 March the CRL Rights Commission (CRL) led by Chairperson Mrs Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, held a press conference and made sensationalised statements regarding  the tragic events at Ngcobo in what appears to be an attempt to garner support for the recommendations in their Report on the ‘Commercialisation’ of Religion and Abuse of People’s Belief Systems.  This followed on from the CRL’s statements over the weekend, where they blamed Parliament for failing to adopt and implement these recommendations, stating that they will now apply to the Constitutional Court for a declaratory order on whether or not the State has the power to regulate religion in the same way as other professions are regulated and whether the CRL’s Report and recommendations are binding on government in the same way as those of the Public Protector.

While the CRL has every right to approach the Constitutional Court, it is concerning that the Commission remains deeply critical of the open,  democratic process that followed its recommendations.  While Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) and others challenged the validity of the process followed by the CRL in compiling their Report, we commended the COGTA Parliamentary Portfolio Committee for the fair and open-handed manner in which they both allowed and encouraged public participation and input into their recommendations.

At what the CRL have described as “a second bite of the cherry”, COGTA elected in October 2017 to give over 30 groups, consisting of major denominations, church groups, other major religions and international human rights lawyers, the opportunity to make both written and verbal submissions with regard to the CRL’s Report and recommendations.  These presented a unanimous view that the abuses identified in the CRL’s Report were unacceptable and could not be excused in the name of religious freedom.  However, the CRL’s recommendation that the Commission (as an institution of State) be appointed “the final arbiter of religion” (p 48 of the CRL’s Final Report)  with the power to grant (or not) licences to every religious practitioner and place of worship, was equally rejected because it would amount to State control of religion, which is evidently unconstitutional.

At the COGTA meetings, the religious community also voiced concern that the State did not appear to be enforcing existing laws against those who perpetrated crimes in the name of religion.  They observed that current legislation provides sanctions for all the abuses identified in the CRL’s Report, but asked COGTA to recommend – where necessary – the closure of any legal loopholes.  The fact that enforcing existing laws is effective at stopping such abuses, is evidenced by the sentencing this week of the so-called “Prophet of Doom”, who was given a three year jail sentence or a R30 000 fine on five charges of assault with intent to commit grievous bodily harm (after he was also previously interdicted from administering harmful substances to congregants)

There was a further unanimous appeal that the religious community be provided the opportunity to convene a National Religious Consultation to define the responsibilities which underlie the rights to freedom of religion and produce a “Code of Ethics” to guide and govern what is (and is not) acceptable practice in the religious sector.  This was supported by COGTA, who recognised that the religious community should be given the opportunity to get its own house in order and to produce outcomes developed by and for itself that are truly self-regulatory.

In yesterday’s briefing, the CRL Chairperson criticised COGTA for listening to this broad-based representation of South Africa’s faith community and lambasted it for failing to implement the CRL Report’s recommendations.  This response is bizarre in a democracy which values public participation in the law-making process as near sacred.  It is increasingly evident that the CRL, under the leadership of Mrs Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, are disinterested in engaging with the very religious community which they were established to serve and represent, criticising Parliament’s recommendation to convene a National Religious Consultation and complaining of lack of funds, while at the same time wasting no time or money in filing lawsuits in the Constitutional Court.

It is equally concerning that the CRL appear to be under the impression that they have the same level of executive authority as the office of the Public Protector. However, section 185 (2) of the Constitution makes it clear that the CRL is an investigative and advisory body and that, unlike the Public Protector, its recommendations are to guide, rather than to direct or bind Parliament in its deliberations and legislative processes.  In presenting their Report to COGTA, the CRL were fulfilling their mandate and the fact that COGTA, after extensive deliberations and public participation, have declined to support the CRL’s recommendations that it be empowered to effectively control the religious sector, should not leave them feeling “useless” and “marginalised”.

The CRL Chairperson stated at yesterday’s briefing that because the recommendations in their Report had not been implemented by Parliament, the CRL was “meaningless and powerless” and should be closed down to save taxpayers’  money.  However, this is far from the truth.  The CRL had both the power and the duty to intervene in the matter of the “Seven Angels” cult when they were made aware of its lawless activities in 2016.  The Chairperson herself is video recorded at a meeting with the cult leadership, telling them that they were in breach of several laws. The CRL therefore had particular knowledge of this matter long before the tragic events of this past weekend.  Section 5(1)(k) of the CRL Act empowers the CRL to “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.”  They could have intervened, yet apparently chose not to.

FOR SA therefore continues to call on the CRL to provide an explanation of the actions they took – given the power and the duty they clearly have – to alert and direct the relevant authorities and organs of state to investigate the “Seven Angels” cult since 2016.

ENDS.

For more information, contact:
Michael Swain
Executive Director, FOR SA
Email: Michael.swain@forsa.org.za
Cell: 072 270 1217