South Africans’ “obsession with miracles and the extraordinary” is what makes them increasingly vulnerable to being duped into joining cults and funding unscrupulous businesses masquerading as churches.
This was according to Dr Jan Chabalala, head of psychiatry in the South African Defence Force, who commented on the recent killings near Engcobo in the Eastern Cape involving a suspected Christian cult.
Chabalala decried the level of ignorance and misinformation in poor communities, especially among women, which made them far more vulnerable to organisations using the Bible to exploit congregants.
“As South Africans, we believe in miracles, we are obsessed with miracles and getting something we did not work for,” Chabalala said.
Unscrupulous people would create entire business models around this, open churches and use them to make money, he said.
“They induce them into having boundless faith – almost like being hypnotised – and the Bible backs them up. They use certain chapters of the Bible to suit their needs. They will tell you to believe the Bible without questioning and use the strength of that faith to brainwash people.”
As in the case of the Engcobo incident, it was not uncommon for hardened criminals to start using churches to make money, he said.
“Criminals, old criminals who are psychopaths, come out of jail and they start a church to make money. I have seen it many times.”
A manhunt by police in the Eastern Cape, prompted by the killing of five police officers in a rural police station, led the police to a church operating in a house where seven suspects were gunned down in a shoot-out last week.
This was the same church which in 2016 was found to have been illegally keeping scores of children in their care out of school and isolated.
Despite the community having reported several issues with the Mancoba Seven Angels Ministry, believed to be a cult, government was not able to shut the church down and no further alarm was raised.
There have also been allegations of sex slavery and child abuse at the hands of its leaders.
The Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious, and Linguistic Communities lashed out at parliament for failing to enact legislation that provided for better regulation of religious organisations.
But the South African Council of Churches said it was not legislation that was insufficient, but enforcement.