by Daniela Ellerbeck
30 September 2020


The Department of Social Development (DSD) has called for public comments on the Victim Support Services Bill, 2019 (“the Bill”) by Wednesday 7th October, 2020.

The purpose of the Bill is to set out the rights of victims of violent crime (including physical, emotional, economic as well as spiritual abuse or harm), and to ensure that such victims are treated with dignity and respect by all service providers (including churches and other religious organisations).  

From a religious freedom point of view, however, the Bill contains various broad and intrusive provisions that have the potential to unnecessarily interfere with and/or negatively impact on the operations and work of religious organisations and workers. It will also impose severe criminal sanctions for breaches and/or non-compliance.

In view hereof, FOR SA strongly encourages religious organisations to submit comments on the Bill.  Click here to download a pro forma submission  which FOR SA has prepared to assist religious organisations in this regard.

Comments can be e-mailed to: Siza Magangoe at [email protected]; or Luyanda Mtshotshisa at [email protected]; or Anna Sithole at [email protected] by no later than 7 October 2020.

Some of the “problem areas” with the Bill – as currently drafted

The effect of the Bill is that religious organisations offering “spiritual services” (i.e. pastoral counsel and care to their members who have been victims of violent crime) must:

  • register with the DSD, failing which – it appears – the religious organisations are not allowed to operate, or even to be established (section 20); and
  • have all their (employed, and lay) pastoral staff and ministry leaders within the religious organisation who may have to give pastoral counsel and care to a “victim” should such a situation ever arise, vetted and their criminal record verified (section 24(2)).

Additionally, the Bill gives the State the power to:

  • prescribe certain (structural, size, safety, hygiene, security, and building) norms and standards that, by implication, will apply to the facilities of religious organisations (section 27);
  • prescribe the management and control structures that, by implication, will apply to religious organisations (section 32);
  • monitor religious organisations, and for this purpose, to enter and investigate any facility of, and to inspect any records or documents of, the religious organisation. In addition, the State may interview any victim cared for by the religious organisation, or accommodated in their facilities (section 30(3)).

As such, the Bill could potentially violate various constitutional rights, including particularly the right to freedom of religion, belief and opinion (section 15 of the Constitution), which right includes the institutional autonomy of religious organisations to operate and manage their internal affairs free from undue interference by the State, as well as the right to privacy (section 14 of the Constitution) and the right to dignity (section 10).

Practically also, the Bill will impose burdensome registration and accreditation obligations on religious organisations, many of whom do not have the administrative or financial capacity to comply with the proposed law which imposes strict sanctions (even imprisonment) for non-compliance.

Click here to download a pro forma submission

Kind regards,
Michael Swain
FOR SA Executive Director
[email protected]

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