By Adv Nadene Badenhorst, FOR SA Legal Counsel

With relations between the CRL Rights Commission (CRL) and the religious community in South Africa severely strained, the religious sector is hoping that President Ramaphosa will carefully consider who he appoints to serve on the commission for the next five years.

The term of the CRL under the leadership of CRL Chair Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, came to an end on February 28. Interviews with 42 shortlisted candidates (out of the 74 nominated candidates) were conducted on March 11 and 12, and the next step is for the selection panel to submit the list of recommended commissioners for consideration and appointment by the president on or before March 31.

Various senior religious and church leaders have expressed serious concern that the shortlisted candidates interviewed by the selection panel, include Mkhwanazi-Xaluva and deputy chair, Prof David Mosoma, as well as various other commissioners who served on the CRL in the previous term. (Click here for a list of the shortlisted/interviewed candidates.)

In the past five years, the CRL has driven an aggressive agenda for state regulation of religion, including a proposal for the CRL , as an “institution of state” in terms of the Constitution, to be appointed the “final arbiter” of religion in South Africa (page 48 of the CRL’s Final Report on the “Commercialisation” of Religion and Abuse of People’s Belief Systems) with the “final decision powers” (page 47 of the same report).

While the vast majority of religious leaders in South Africa agree that there are isolated instances of abuse and malpractice in the religious sector, what many take issue with is:

the fact that leaders and religious organisations who share the views of the CRL were included in the CRL’s processes around the issue, while those holding a contrary view were sidelined and excluded from the processes on various occasions; and the former CRL’s repeated threats towards the Church in South Africa and their insistence — right up and until the CRL’s National Consultative Conference (NCC) on February 25-26, where the next commission’s agenda for the next 5 years was set — on having the recommendations (which had already been rejected by COGTA) in their report pushed through, rather than allowing the religious community the opportunity to take ownership of the process of seeking truly self-regulatory solutions to the problems, as is now underway following the National Summit of Religious and Church Leaders at Rhema Church on February 13. As a result, the relationship between the CRL , who, in terms of the Constitution, is supposed to be a defender of religious freedom and a friend of religious communities, and Mkhwanazi-Xaluva in particular — and the religious community of South Africa has been severely damaged, and it may well take some time for the commission’s credibility and trust relationship with the religious community to be restored.

In the meanwhile, President Ramaphosa’s recent statements (as reported in the media) that “the government will not go overboard and start regulating churches and religions”, and that it would indeed be “unconstitutional”, are encouraging.

In the circumstances, religious leaders are hopeful that the president will give this matter careful consideration and appoint CRL commissioners who will serve the good of the country, and the religious community in particular, for the next five years.

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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