The CRL investigation errs in narrow target and approach!
– an open contestation for access to claim a right to political and economic power fuels this debate –
Recent media coverage on the work of the Commission for Rights of Cultural, Religious & Linguistics Communities (CRL) has not left the Commission as a mandated entity in honour. We have read of ‘cases’ lodged and subpoenas served on individuals even threats of non compliance resulting in one year prison sentence. We have heard counter claims of confused administrative bungling in which the wrong plaintiff or litigants have been attached to the wrong so-called cases and perpetrators. We have seen this play out in a comedy of administrative and personal politicking that is now part of our discourse. What is indisputable is the targeted constituency in particular the broad Christian Independent Churches.
The mandate of the CRL constitutes it a necessary structure for our democratic society designed to give life to the reality of an informed society that is guarded against forms of human rights abuse that manifests in spaces of religion, language and cultural practices. Particularly where freedom of association and the right to belong is enshrined in the bill of the rights as inalienable. The work of the CRL is therefore to assist the regularizing of the space of religious and cultural environment to ensure a balance of rights and their concomitant set of responsibilities. Faulting the CRL in its mandatory role would prove difficult.
However, what is and remains in this evolving context questionable is perhaps the methodology and approach the CRL has chosen to follow to conduct what it calls research in attaining a body of information to give meaning to perhaps vacuous claims of gross human rights abuse and a commercialization of religion as leveled against some.
Perhaps we must also say the CRL narrowly anchored its work inspired by the most recent unorthodox, unsavory and not akin to traditional practices of the Christian faith. Congregants for some churches were subjected to eating grass, drinking petrol and were made to strip down to their underwear in full view of those in attendance to be either trampled on by the pastor or church leader in a demeaning manner. South Africa was shocked to hear about these practices as uncommon among us whilst we have not yet test the claim of its high prevalence.
It was therefore natural and welcomed that an investigation is undertaken to ascertain the prevalence of these acts, so as to find a means to respond to these in a comprehensive sense. Again the CRL’s attempt to ascertain information remains laudable for it is necessary.
What is a cause for grave concern is not the research-project per se, but the methodology and approach it has sought to adopt to reach its end goal. When the CRL leadership is quoted they are keen to explain their actions as aimed at attaining information and not a court case approach, yet the contrary is true when we see their approach as not imbibing a voluntary participation but the frame of a legal case. This legal frame sees a case being lodged by a plaintiff or litigant against a potential perpetrator or violator. The case is lodged and the CRL serves the perpetrator with papers to answer a case. This approach is therefore an accusatory and intrusive one. It furthermore opens itself for abuse in which anyone for any frivolous if not vexatious ill intend and purposes may lodge a case against someone they simply do not appreciate or like. The CRL therefore may plausibly be used to settle scores.
The second problem of this approach as adopted by the CRL vacillates in it perhaps not understanding the current contested terrain of religious space where such contestation imbibes a proximity to political and economic power. The contested space of South Africa’s religious world in particular Christian is somewhat derived in essence from the historical role the SACC played during apartheid as a surrogate mother to our liberation juxtaposed to the ever dwindling role it has in the last 21 years assumed.
The SACC that once powerful voice that pointed its finger in apartheid’s eye, is an emaciated shadow of its former self, teetering in irrelevance in the back deserts of forgetfulness haunted by a claim of superlative relevance in another epoch, when the Christian religious world in South Africa has moved on.
Yes, the SACC for whom the racist Apartheid government had to find a counter-match in establishment of the Independent Federation of Christian Churches (IFCC), with State money. It’s leader originally was going to be the late Ed Roebert but he was muscled out and by-default face of the IFCC became Pastor Ray McCauley, who apparently had a conversion and today holds one of many self-claimed positions as a voice of religion. The politics of contestation between these dead organisations (SACC and IFCC) is playing out in the RCL investigation, because this contestation is about whom legitimately has access to political and economic power in this dispensation.
We shall not forget that in the uprun to the launch of the IFCC how McCauley made it clear he will never serve under a ‘Black’, ‘Colored’ and ‘Indian’ leaders for they have no history of having led anything effectively. McCauley till today refuses to be a vice – chairperson of anything he always claims chairpersonship or co-chairpersonship.
It is amazing that the IFCC is as dead as the SACC yet their former leaders have become the self-claimed voices of reason speaking on behalf of the church in South Africa. It is time these leaders like McCauley tell South Africa he speaks on behalf of Rhema North and not the general Christian Church who never mandated him or a Makgoba or anyone to speak on our behalf.
It is no secret that the current administration has shown a truculence to trust the SACC, whom today appears a cohort of individuals.
What the CRL in its information searching exercises cannot afford to do is to feed this notion that its primary target is the Christian Faith.
The CRL dare be seen to naturally assume a claim human rights abuse or a commercialization of religion is not occurring in for example the Muslim and Jewish Faiths. Particularly when prosperity the economic welfare of the believers in the brotherhood is a didache of these faiths and where women is made to assume a certain role, no different to the Christian Faith.
The CRL cannot allow itself to become an unintended tool or weapon in hand for those who are engaging a contested space of religious relevance, where such contestation is really about access to political and economic power.
The CRL can least afford to be seen to be this intrusive and act as a court of law when the intention was the gaining of information, which still needs to be tested in veracity and truthfulness of claims of prevalence.
The CRL is perhaps today tainted for not having understood the dynamic context of South Africa in democracy as a society of contested terrains in which there is an open vying for power and religious leaders in political sense contest for this vacuum. You see this emerging groups and certain leaders claiming they represent the proverbial gates to political power and thus warrants being taken more serious than others.
The CRL cannot summon church leadership regardless to following to show up and prove their credentials, and make known their church bank account information when it has not ask the same from, for example Islamic and Jewish Faith leadership? By what sense of right is this demand made of a certain group of Christian leadership defined as independent?
Should the CRL not also ask for the credentials and church financial status of the so-called mainline churches such as the Catholics, Anglicans, Dutch Reformed, Methodists, Lutheran or even the mainline Pentecostal Churches such as the AFM-SA, Assemblies of God and Full Gospel church denominations? What exonerates these if they are exonerated?
The CRL runs the risk of being misconstrued as a commission hell-bent on a targeted audience for it perhaps already has concluded those it subpoenaed as guilty in public courts.
The CRL cannot be seen intoxicated to regulate the Christian religion in clamp down of a certain targeted section of our religious populace.
South Africa cannot afford a CRL that is unconscious of it being alive to religious and cultural practices, where people consciously profess and make their choices to associate on the pretext of a constitutional diaphragm that celebrates these civil liberties as progressive of the society we both seek to become and remain.
Bishop Clyde N.S. Ramalaine
Is an Activist, Author, Writer and Political commentator