By Advocate Nadene Badenhorst, FOR SA Legal Counsel

The agenda of the CRL Rights Commission (CRL) to continue to push ahead with their proposals to regulate religion remains one of the biggest threats to freedom of religion in South Africa.  

This is despite the fact that at the National Religious Leaders Summit, which took place at Rhema Church in February 2019, it was decided that the faith community itself would take ownership of the process to find appropriate solutions to the abuses and malpractices in the religious sector. It was further resolved that consultations would be held on a local and provincial level, with a view to presenting the outcomes at a further Summit to be held in October 2019.

Since October is now imminent, many religious organisations are understandably asking “what has happened since the first Summit in February, and where do things currently stand with the proposed regulation of religion?”

The (new) CRL Rights Commission’s position

Two weeks after the first Summit in February 2019, the CRL (under the leadership of its previous Chair, Ms Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva) held its National Consultative Conference (NCC) to determine the CRL’s objectives for the next five years. At the NCC, which was attended by FOR SA, it was resolved that:

“1. The CRL must continue with ensuring that there is a peer review mechanism.

2. Continue pushing for the proposals that the CRL has placed before the nation and Parliament.

3. Deal with the media and the church services that run in the TV stations so that those are within the constitutional framework.

4. Repeal the Traditional Health Practitioners Act and create a federation of traditional health practitioners.”

The CRL Commissioners’ term came to an end on 28 February. In June, the President announced the names of the new CRL Commissioners (under the leadership of the previous Deputy Chair, Prof David Mosomo) for the next five years.

It is evident that, although the Commission has changed, its views have not. In this regard, see a recent media interview by Prof Mosomo regarding the new Commission’s approach and focus areas. In a recent meeting between the CRL and the Steering Committee of the Religious Leaders Summit (attended by FOR SA), Prof Mosomo again made it clear that the CRL regards compulsory licencing of religious practitioners as the answer.

In light of this, it remains critically important that religious practitioners and organisations are engaged in the processes to develop and support alternative solutions (to the CRL’s proposals as set out in its 2017 report on the Commercialisation of Religion and Abuse of People’s Belief Systems, which effectively amount to State regulation of religion), in the run-up to the next Religious Leaders Summit in October 2019. FOR SA has generated these alternative proposals to address the problems identified by the CRL in their report.

The Religious Leaders Summit

Since the first Summit in February 2019, the Steering Committee (under the leadership of Bishop Moso Sono) has been augmented to include more members of the faith community. However, the South African Union Council of Independent Churches (SAUCIC), which has actively supported the CRL’s recommendations from the beginning, has by far the largest representation. While FOR SA itself is a member of the Steering Committee and also of the legal subcommittee, as a legal advocacy organisation we maintain our independence and independent voice to speak to the issues at hand.

The Steering Committee has met on a few occasions, but the process has been slow and not without problems (including internal politics, lack of resource and capacity, etc). From where we stand, one of the major problems remains that very few of the members on the Steering Committee have been involved in the processes concerning the regulation of religion since 2015, neither do thay have the legal insight or expertise to deal with what is squarely a legal issue.

In the circumstances, and to the extent that it was proposed that members of the Steering Committee be commissioned to facilitate consultations on a local and provincial level, we are concerned that they do not have a grip on the legal issues at stake to be able to effectively lead such consultations. To the extent that it has been proposed that legal experts be co-opted to assist in this process and even travel to the different provinces, it is very difficult to see how this will be possible before October.

At a recent meeting of legal experts, it was proposed that a document be prepared with a number of questions in clear and uncomplicated language. This document is then to be circulated to religious practitioners and organisations as far and wide as possible, with the aim being to assist the discussions that will be taking place on a local and provincial level. The input received will then serve as a platform for discussion at the next Summit which is planned for 23 – 24 October.

For more details regarding the Summit and FOR SA’s proposed alternative solutions that we intend to present at the Summit (and that have already received the endorsement of a large number of religious organisations), follow us on our website at www.forsa.org.za or contact us at legal@forsa.org.za 

Nadene is an Advocate, and practised as a member of the Cape Bar for a number of years. She holds both a BA LLB degree from the University of Stellenbosch and a LLM degree in International Human Rights Law (cum laude) from the University of Essex. She currently serves as a Next Generation Board Member on the Advocates Africa Board, representing Southern Africa.



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