When things fall apart people tend to throw their hands in the air and let the end justify any means. Recently, we have seen marches by members of the law enforcement who, like most South African citizens, are fed up with crime in general and the killing of police offers in particular.
In pursuit of this noble objective, they’ve sought to dictate to the courts to turn a blind eye to the relevant laws that prohibit law enforcement officers from shooting criminals who do not pose immediate danger to lives, limb and property. Off course, there are hordes of sick and tired people who support this view.
Similarly, the media has been littered with stories of charlatans who prey on unsuspecting congregants and make them perform unsavoury and objectionable tricks such as drinking of petrol eat grass and snakes. This, and many other dodgy exploits, is done in the name of religion.
These have continued unabated with virtually no intervention or appropriate response. Thus, the summons issued by the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission) were embraced as opportune, crucial and long overdue.
In our quest to rid our society of the emerging cancerous scourge, can we pause and ask whether or not when the fathers of our Constitution created this instrument which is meant to strengthen, guard and support our Constitutional democracy, also conferred regulatory authority on religion on it?
For the record, mission of CRL Rights Commission is “a united South African nation that protects and promotes cultural, religious and linguistic rights of all its diverse communities.” Further, its objective is to promote and develop peace, friendship, humanity, tolerance, and national unity among cultural, religious and linguistic on the basis of equality, non-discrimination and free association.
Basically, the mandate of the CRL Rights Commission is nation-building, fostering tolerance and to ensure that “never again” must any South African community’s rights to cultural, religion and language be undermined. Theirs is to support the values enshrined in the Constitution in line with its vision “we, the people of South Africa… believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.” Nothing more; nothing less.
In August 1998, the then Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, eloquently introduced the purpose of the Commission and the work that lay ahead of its establishment: “The objective of equality, which occupies such a critical place in our constitutional order, must also constitute the very heart of the work we will be doing to define the composition and functioning of the Commission. …And therein lies the great complexity of our work!”
“What is it that we will have to do together to overturn the great inequalities created by our colonial and apartheid past? What must be done to create a situation of equality among our diverse cultural, religious and linguistic groups, so that they can live and build a happy future together, in conditions of peace and friendship, united by their common humanity?”
In a nutshell, this is the Constitutional mandate of the CRL Rights Commission. Shall we then sit back, fold our arms and feign ignorance in the search of a great end? But at times there’s no end – our rights can be eroded in perpetuity all in the name of attaining an end that has no end. Upset as we all may be with the repulsive happenings in the name of religion, our apathy may be the gravest threat to our constitutional democracy.
The CRL Commission has been scathing in its attack on the church and we were particularly infuriated by its contemptuous attitude as it seeks to exercise authority outside its constitutional mandate.
Part of what informs the assault is the dismissal and gross misunderstanding of charismatic, Pentecostal and African indigenous churches. The condescending attitude and unfortunate utterances that were reported in the media were largely directed at these movements. For example, one of the vexing issues of our time is land dispossession and the traditional churches have never accounted for the vast hectares of land they own through colonial donations. In turn, we must buy land in order to worship.
Even so, it is not for the CRL Rights Commission to probe such – an instrument would have to be established within the law and the Constitution. The commission must not purport to be a regulatory authority on religion, that’s outside its Constitutional mandate.
We have utmost respect for the Constitution and have no objection in principle to account to an appropriate authority – and we did so without the Commission providing valid reasons or a proper regulatory or legislative authority. We have nothing to hide as we constantly submit our financial documents to the relevant authorities every year.
Perhaps, as a warning to my nation, let me invoke the wise counsel of the first American President, George Washington “If in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the Constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way in which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.”
Archbishop Zondo is the leader of Rivers of Living Waters Ministries.

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