23/11/2016 20:04 SAST | Updated 09/12/2016 19:36 SAST

Is There Really Nothing That Can Be Done About The 'Doomed Prophet'?

Apparently not. And that is a big problem.

This past week, a certain Prophet (Detective) Lethebo Rabalago from the Mountzion General Assembly in Limpopo caused an uproar when photos emerged on Facebook, showing him spraying Doom insect killer to 'heal' people during his church services. This uproar comes at a time when the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission) is in the midst of finalising a report into the commercialisation of religion, and also "the deep societal thinking that makes some members of our society vulnerable and gullible on views expressed and actions during religious ceremonies".

This investigative report was commissioned after a spate of church incidents involving religious leaders convincing congregants to consume snakes, grass and petrol. An interim report was released in mid-October. This report notes that there has been a "remarkable proliferation" in religious activities such as advertisements in public areas making "fantastic and mythical promises, soliciting gifts/offerings/donations in cash or kind".

The report found a wide spectrum of issues, including:

  • The deliberate exploitation of poor and vulnerable people through the assumption of a divine right to solicit and receive gifts, tithes or offerings without a commitment to responsible financial management or accounting;
  • Advertising of holy products or claims of healing powers for various illnesses and socioeconomic challenges without complying with advertising legislation;
  • Various cults of personality;
  • Rituals that appeared to breach human rights and ethics;
  • Fundamentalist practices such as forbidding children to attend school; recommending untested practices in health matters;
  • And asserting and justifying the registering of religious bodies as companies and earning funds as entertainers and not as religious practitioners.

It further finds that many churches are not registered as non-profit organisations or as public benefit organisations.

The report also goes on to list at length the challenges that the commissioners were faced with in their investigation, including threats, intimidation and refusals of cooperation.

The commission recommended that religious communities regulate themselves to be more in line with the Constitution and the law through a peer review council mechanism. In case of clear violation of law, it said that the various legal authorities such as the police and the revenue service had the authority to step in. however, blanket state intervention was rejected.

This view was reinforced by Pastor Peter Moitse, who called in to Radio 702 to say that he'd been involved in the commission and concluded that the state should "give us the opportunity to put our house in order."

The CRL Commission chief executive Edward Mafadza said to Huffington Post SA that they were not concerned about state oversight. "The state must create an environment that is conducive to religious groups to deal with their own. They must be given the space to assess and discipline their own, because right now, they can't do anything about [these questionable leaders]. They can't reprimand or discipline [Prophet Rabalago]."

The view that it was only the congregation that could act against the bug-spray preacher was rejected by Section27's Mark Heywood. He said, "I can't see the argument that only the affected persons can lay a complaint. If police have evidence of people or companies behaving in a way that is detrimental to the health and wellbeing of other people, then they have to investigate. The pastor was on the radio confirming what he did and justifying his actions."

The CRL Commission is currently accepting comment from religious leaders and institutions on the interim report until February 2017, and will table a final report before parliament after that.