By Michael Swain, FOR SA Executive Director

The CRL Rights Commission (CRL) continues to lobby extensively for the implementation of the recommendations contained in its 2017 Report on the Commercialisation of Religion and the Abuse of People’s Belief Systems (the Report), which effectively amount to State regulation of religion.  These recommendations were rejected by the multi-party Parliamentary Portfolio Committee for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) following three days of hearings in June and October 2018. They were rejected a second time by an overwhelming majority of the senior religious leaders who attended the Religious Leaders’ Summit (RLS) at Rhema church in February 2019.

While there is unanimous agreement that it is impossible for the perpetrator of an illegal act to hide behind “freedom of religion”, the overwhelming majority of faith community declared the Report’s recommendations to be unnecessary (all the problems identified are already covered by existing laws, with the problem being a lack of law enforcement), unconstitutional (they breach both the constitutional rights to freedom of religion, and freedom of association) and unworkable (they require a vast, new national bureaucracy to enforce).

CRL’s position as at 23 October 2019

However, at a meeting of the Soweto Ministers Fraternal on 23 October 2019, Mr Edward Mafadza (CEO of the CRL) doubled down on the CRL’s commitment to regulate the religious community.  He criticised religious leaders for missing the opportunity provided by the RLS in February, which was co-organised by the CRL and sponsored by Rhema. The CRL – who set the agenda for this meeting – expected that this would conclude with a declaration to support their recommendations, and which they intended to subsequently adopt at the CRL’s National Consultative Conference (NCC).  Instead – and despite the fact that the CRL were sent a full report-back on the RLS and the resolutions and action steps which were mandated – Mr Mafadza claimed that delegates at the NCC only had the CRL’s Report to consider.  Although there were only a handful of representatives from the religious community present at the NCC, this meeting voted that the CRL must continue to pursue the implementation of their recommendations and take the matter back to Parliament. (With regard to the CRL NCC, see this previous press release.)

Mr Mafadza further stated that the CRL were within their rights to lobby and push through the recommendations contained in their Report to legislation, with Rwanda (where over 7,000 “illegal churches” have already been shut down) being mentioned as a possible model.  He said that the CRL’s view was that the 2018 hearings into the Report before COGTA were “overboard”, and that there was inadequate representation of the views of the religious community – despite the fact that senior leaders representing over 15 million people from various faith groups, denominations, religious organisations, academics and legal experts, made submissions.

Mr Mafadza concluded by warning the Soweto Ministers Fraternal there is a real possibility that Parliament will proceed to draw up legislation before the religious sector has finished its own deliberations, and that the Steering Committee of the RLS must move with speed or the CRL’s proposals will be enacted.  While acknowledging that there are many fraternals and networks already in existence, he criticised their lack of authority to bring a leader to order when he/she does something wrong and warned that other religious leaders would respect their government and assist the State to intervene in the religious sector.

These remarks confirmed other concerns which emerged following a meeting in August 2019 between various members of the above-mentioned Steering Committee and attended by FOR SA’s Legal Counsel, Advocate Nadene Badenhorst.  At this meeting, newly appointed CRL Chair Prof David Mosoma made an analogy regarding the right to freedom of religion granted by section 15 of the Constitution, which he likened to driving a car.  He said that any person can drive a car if they have been properly licensed to do so and they can freely continue to do so unless/until they commit an offence which warrants their license being revoked.   Clearly, there is confusion and a lack of understanding at the head of the CRL between a privilege (driving a car) and the fundamental and foundational human rights which undergird freedom of religion.

Religious community to act swiftly

In light of these recent statements – as well as what appears to be synchronised raids by police, supported by various State departments, on churches in Soweto and East London – it is evident that the religious community would be well advised to fast-track their deliberations to produce alternative solutions to the issues raised by the CRL’s Report. 

The RLS Steering Committee has been mandated to organise a further Religious Leaders’ Summit.  Although an aspirational date for the next Summit was originally given as October 2019, a meeting of the Steering Committee last month agreed that this should be postponed until the first half of 2020 to allow for further necessary consultation to take place locally and provincially.  This delay is intended to give the faith community the broadest opportunity to consider the issues and to formulate alternative solutions to the recommendations.

In addition to the process being put in motion by the Steering Committee, there are many initiatives taking place across South Africa to develop solutions which will allow the religious community to remain truly self-regulatory.  These “alternative solutions” include a draft of the Code of Conduct, which was recommended as part of COGTA’s recommendations when they rejected the CRL’s proposals.  The South African Council for the Protection and Promotion of Religious Rights and Freedoms (SACRRF), who authored the widely supported South African Charter for Religious Rights and Freedoms, was mandated to develop this Code – as the “responsibility” side of the Charter – by over 70 senior religious leaders from across the faith community and it is currently in its third draft (click here to download).

To assist in this process, FOR SA has compiled a pro-forma document (click here to download) which contains proposals to address all the issues of concern identified in the CRL’s Report and which can be implemented without the requirement of further legislation.  We encourage the religious community of South Africa to urgently examine these alternatives and to take the necessary steps to formalise their own submissions.  In order to ensure that your voice is heard, it is vitally important that the solutions you and/or the religious structures you represent develop and/or endorse, are formally communicated to: 

COGTA Parliamentary Portfolio Committee Secretary
Attn: Shereen Cassiem

COGTA Ministry
PA To Minister: Ms Mandisa Mbele

Registry Clerk, Office of the Minister: Ms Ingrid Serithe

Summit Secretariat Contact Details
Attn: Pastor Giet Khosa

Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA)

Michael was raised in England, graduating from the University of Bristol with an honours degree in Law before immigrating to South Africa in 1983. He has been a successful businessman as well as having spent over 30 years in ministry in South Africa, Europe and the USA. He serves as the Executive Director of Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA).

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