by Daniela Ellerbeck
12 March 2018

PRESS RELEASE: 12 March 2018

For immediate distribution


Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) supports the CRL’s call for the institution of a commission of enquiry into the Ngcobo tragedy. This weekend further shocking reports emerged that girls as young as 12 years old were being used as sex slaves by the Seven Angels cult leaders. It is important to understand how such a tragedy could have happened – especially given the evidence that various state institutions, including the CRL, were aware of the cult’s illegal activities since 2016, but that no action was apparently taken to prevent further wrongdoing or harm.

The CRL chairperson, Mrs Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, was quick to point out that currently there is no law to prevent anyone from starting a cult in South Africa. The CRL’s position is that if they had been granted the power to license (and therefore control) all religion and religious activity in South Africa, cults like the Seven Angels would never exist.

However, while a fair comment, it is evident at first glance that expecting any criminal organisation, such as the Seven Angels cult, to abide by the laws of the country, is ludicrous. This is why law enforcement exists – to enforce the existing laws that (already) make illegal activities, illegal. “Our Constitution allows you to believe in the Man in the Moon and to worship him by eating cheese at night and you can even persuade others to join you”, says Michael Swain, Executive Director of FOR SA. “You are entitled to follow your beliefs, but you are not – and never have been – free to break the laws of South Africa in the process. That was clearly happening in the case of the Seven Angels cult”.

It is also apparent that there is a grave danger to religious freedom and freedom of expression in general when the State is empowered to decide which beliefs are valid or not. FOR SA, together with the vast majority of South Africa’s faith community, opposed the CRL’s request that it be granted the power to be “the final arbiter of religion” (as proposed on p 48 of the CRL’s Final Report), because it is contrary to the fundamental right to religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution. Section 15 of the Constitution assures everyone the right to believe and to practise their beliefs, and the Constitutional Court has further ruled that even if such belief is “bizarre, irrational or illogical”, it is nevertheless valid and protected under law.

Even if Parliament had agreed to limit these fundamental rights by adopting the CRL’s recommendations, and in the highly unlikely event that a criminal organisation such as the Seven Angels would have applied to the CRL for licensing, the existing laws (which makes practices such as keeping sex slaves, and keeping children from school, illegal) would still have to be enforced. And since the lack of enforcement of existing laws doubtless contributed to the tragic events at Ngcobo, it remains clear that the root of the problem is a lack of capacity or will to enforce existing laws, not because there is a legal deficiency.


For more information, contact:
Michael Swain
Executive Director, FOR SA
Email: [email protected]
Cell: 072 270 1217