“Bizarre, illogical and irrational”

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In South Africa, self-proclaimed prophets are once again attracting attention – in addition to their "miracles," mainly through abuse and fraud. Now there is discussion about legal regulation of churches.

Corruption, record unemployment and Corona: South Africa has no shortage of problems. Despite this – or perhaps because the abuses are so debilitating – a very different ie has dominated the headlines in recent days: self-proclaimed prophets.

They are not a new phenomenon in the Cape Republic, but recently they have once again caused a stir through scandals and machinations.

Rich pastor with alleged remedies

Most often beaming from the front pages: the Prophet Shepherd Bushiri – or as his critics call him, alluding to his first name: "the wolf in shepherd's pelt". The evangelical preacher and leader of the "Enlightened Christian Movement" is considered one of the richest pastors in Africa. His empire includes mansions and jet.

Not least thanks to the "miracles" he says he works, he regularly gathers tens of thousands of believers in soccer stadiums and in front of the TV set. Bushiri also claims to have found a cure for HIV/Aids and corona or to have floated in front of the faithful.

Fled the country after bail

Barely two weeks ago, he stunned the nation again – when he apparently vanished into thin air. The judiciary is investigating him for money laundering and fraud. Shortly after he and his wife were married for 11.000 euros, they fled to their home country of Malawi.

South African and Malawian authorities denied that their accomplice was Malawi's President Lazarus Chakwera, who visited his counterpart in Pretoria on the day of the escape. But the rumors won't stop: Was the preacher smuggled out of the country with the help of a diplomatic passport, as the Sunday Independent claims with reference to diplomats and intelligence services??

Evangelical clergyman on trial

"I have serious concerns about the way religion is being abused here to get money," says South African pastor Peter-John Pearson in Cape Town. Bushiri is not the only evangelical cleric causing a stir.

For nearly two years, Nigerian pastor Tim Omotoso, hailed by his followers as a spiritual medium, has been facing charges of human trafficking and sexual assault. Now his accuser died of covid-19.

Government agency hunts for unholy prophets

Also targeted by investigators is the Kwasizabantu Christian mission church in eastern South Africa. Its leader, German-born Erlo Stegen, is accused of subduing his hundreds of followers with Bible and whip and using them as labor slaves for his business empire. So claimed former members of the mission at the hearings of the Commission for the Protection of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Groups (CRL).

Until recently, hardly anyone knew this government agency. For several years, however, the guardians of religion have been increasingly in the public eye as they hunt down unholy prophets. The authorities are currently investigating the self-proclaimed "Archbishop" Stephen Zondo. The allegedly sexually abused and exploited his believers and laundered money.

Everyone has a right to religion

In the wake of recent scandals, calls for legal regulation of churches have been renewed in South Africa. The CRL commission had already recommended to the parliament in 2017. But the government has so far shied away from this. "We condemn abuse and support limiting the right to questionable religious practices, but only insofar as it is reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society" said earlier this year the chair of the relevant parliamentary committee, Faith Muthambi.

Everyone has a right to his religion – even if it seems "bizarre, illogical and irrational".

Over-regulation of churches would do more harm

In fact, those responsible are not alone in this. Many traditional churches, including the Catholic Church, also spoke out against general political interference in the faith sector.

Rev. Pearson favors charges against clergy black sheep. However, "over-regulation" of churches could do more harm than good.

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