The Portfolio Committee on Women in the Presidency has suggested that legislation is needed to regulate those churches operating outside the law. The committee was briefed by the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission) on the commercialisation of religion and the abuse and exploitation of people’s belief systems.
The committee said regulations and peer review mechanism as proposed by the CRL Rights Commission will not work in the current system within which the religious sector operates. The committee was of the view that religious leaders will not be able to regulate themselves. While a peer review mechanism has advantages, it will not work in this case, as the church works on a system of forgiveness. A much more stringent system must be devised.
In light of the religious sector’s failure to regulate themselves, the committee called on government to tighten legislation and to close churches, where necessary. Members of the committee said religious leaders have failed to take a stand against what has been happening in the churches, including the sexual abuse that takes place.
The committee welcomed the public participation process, which will be undertaken by the commission. Members of the committee said the commission needs to engage with schools to educate and create awareness on the matter.
The committee called on the CRL Rights Commission to enforce its mandate, which is to conduct legislative intervention, including to make, prepare recommendations and submit to relevant departments. However, any intervention must be done within the confines of the Constitution, bearing in mind that it enshrines freedom of religion for all South Africans.
Nonetheless, the growing problem of abuse within some churches must be dealt with. The committee recommends a religious act, a registration with a council within a regulatory framework and provision for a complaints procedure.
Furthermore, municipalities must enforce by-laws and prevent churches from operating in areas that are not demarcated for religious services. Implementing and enforcing by-laws can be done immediately to shut down churches.
The committee also suggested that the South African Revenue Services (Sars) should ensure the collection of church revenues.
Responding to questions, the Chairperson for the CRL Rights Commission, Ms Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, said the commission is underfunded, which makes it difficult to conduct public education and awareness programmes.
As for Sars collecting revenue, Ms Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said the commission is engaging with Sars and looking into the possibility of a unit focusing on the religious sector.
The committee commended the CRL Rights Commission’s for its work, undertaken in difficult circumstances.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Republic of South Africa: The Parliament.