The religious sector in South Africa wants to eliminate the abuse of women and children by people claiming to be religious leaders. They want to work with law enforcement authorities to remove suspects from of the system.

This emerged at a briefing by the CRL Rights Commission and the religious sector held in Johannesburg on Friday. They have also criticized these so-called religious leaders for abusing their power by forcing people to perform unusual acts like drinking petrol, and eating snakes and grass.

The CRL Rights Commission conducted a study on the commercialisation of religion in South Africa. Some of the recommendations include that there be a peer review mechanism among the religious leaders and for the sector to be regulated. The sector has responded by calling a summit in February next year that will deal with most of the problems.

“The findings have been embarrassing to us, the religious sector, particularly the Christian faith, we have been making headlines for all the wrong reasons. We have seen the exploitation of people, sexual abuse, emotional abuse of people, all these and many other things have tainted the image of the church and put us in a very bad light. These discussions are crucial and as religious leaders we should unite and speak with one voice and come up with a plan that will mitigate or eliminate these abuses,” says Convener, Reverend Ray McCauley.

Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana of the South African Council of Churches has apologised to South Africans for their silence when the abuses were taking place.

“We express deep regret at the kinds of things that have happened and continue to happen in the name of religion. This is about power abuse, these are acutely embarrassing, they play themselves out in sex, we apologise, we can never apologise enough for how long it has taken for us to get to where we are in these conversations.”

Reverend McCauley says they also want to work closely with the Departments of  Police, Home Affairs and Sars to ensure that only credible religious leaders run churches in South Africa.

“Some of them don’t want to belong to anything because they are paying no tax, they are illegal in the country and in many of the cases they are running prostitution and drug dens in the place where the church is being held so that’s why the police commissioner, the receiver of revenue is vital to support us completely in this.”

The CRL Rights Commission is pleased that some of its recommendations are being taken forward.

“We’ve had a rocky start, it always helps to have a rocky start when you start something because then it means you are disrupting the system, then you allow people to think outside the box and say ‘how do we move forward’. We have found a way forward. And we are saying to the nation nothing will ever be the same again in the religious sector,” says the Commission’s Chairperson Thoko Mkhwanazi- Xaluva.

The Portfolio Committee on Corporative Governance and Traditional Affairs has applauded religious leaders for taking a leadership role in ensuring that there is order in the sector. The religious summit will be held on the 13th of February next year.

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