24 July 2020
For immediate distribution
Drive-in services highlight lack of coherence in Government treatment of the religious community
Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) has received a copy of a letter issued by lawyers representing Word of Faith, dated 23 June 2020. The letter is addressed to both the Port Elizabeth SAPS Area Commissioner and the Police Spokesperson. In the letter, the church strongly challenges the statement, issued by Col. Naidu, warning that SAPS will “monitor all drive-in services in the metro and ensure that attendance is limited to a maximum of 50 persons and that anyone found to be exceeding the limits of such regulations will be charged accordingly”. While the church acknowledges and recognises the validity of the 50-person limit for “gatherings” within the church premises, it does not believe that this number can legitimately include those who simply park their cars in their parking lot.
It is difficult to find any rationale or proof to support the concern that “drive-in” events will accelerate the spread of the Covid-19 virus. On the contrary, logic alone would dictate that people sitting in their cars with the windows closed, listening to their radios and parked 1.5 metres apart in the open air represents a near zero threat level. It poses no greater health risk than being caught in a traffic jam or parking at a shopping centre. Such “drive-in” services would seem to be most reasonable, given that overseas they were allowed as early as March when the pandemic was at its most threatening. Furthermore, the Western Cape government is specifically encouraging faith-based organisations “to consider offering drive-in services” in their (draft) Guidelines for the Prevention and Management of Covid-19 Infection at Places of Worship.
This dispute highlights the knock-on effect of a number of issues where Government has failed to provide proper clarification, or where it is evidently treating different sectors of society with different standards. For example, conference centres are allowed to operate and utilise multiple venues on the same premises, whereas churches with the same type of facilities are limited to a single meeting of no more than 50 people in total. Even more illogical is the fact that casinos can operate based upon 50% of their floor space while churches (irrespective of floor space) are limited to 50 people. Perhaps the most extreme example – given that the single goal of the lockdown level strategy is to minimise the risk of person-to-person infection – is that taxis are allowed to operate at 100% of capacity, where evidently no social distancing is possible and no detailed records can be kept.
“It is important that the measures that Government puts in place are consistent with their objectives of ‘flattening the curve’ and are not perceived as arbitrary, unreasonable or inequitable”, says Michael Swain, Executive Director of FOR SA. “FOR SA has repeatedly engaged with Government on these matters. We again appeal for Government’s engagement with the religious community, to resolve these evident issues of unequal treatment and lack of clarity. The religious community must be allowed to play its vital role of strengthening the fabric of our society without fear of unreasonable sanction or disruption”, says Swain.
For more information, contact:
Executive Director, FOR SA
Cell: 072 270 1217