Despite government giving the green light for religious gatherings, the leadership of Mamelodi Baptist Church in Tshwane has decided it will not be reopening from 1 June when the country moves to Level 3 of lockdown.
In a statement on Thursday, two days after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that religious gatherings of up to 50 people would be permitted, the church said it believed the risk of infection during services was still “unacceptably high”, especially in Tshwane, which is one of the country’s hotspots for the virus.
It said church and community members who may be in need of counselling or other services were, however, welcome to visit or call the church for support and they would be assisted.
The church houses scores of people who were left displaced after floods destroyed their homes in the area last year.
It added that it would continue with its social ministry of distributing food parcels, vouchers, and running feeding schemes.
“The community will be kept informed of any changes on this decision should the need arise and circumstances change. Church members are encouraged to keep in touch with their cell groups and to tune in to the online devotions and church services on the Mamelodi Baptist Church Facebook page every Sunday morning at 9.30am,” the church said.
Amongst the organisations which have championed the reopening of religious gatherings has been the South African Council of Churches (SACC) and the African Christian Democratic Party. These organisations and other groups met with Ramaphosa to argue for the reopening of places of worship.
The SACC has since dismissed claims that it coerced government into allowing places of worship to open under Level 3, News24 reported.
SACC general secretary Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana said the accusation that churches strong-armed the government into allowing religious gatherings was from those who had “failed to appreciate the intensity of people’s spirituality, especially the poorer communities of our society”.
This after a debate ensued on social media platforms following Ramaphosa’s announcement on Tuesday, with some believing the decision would cause more harm than good.
The country’s third-largest political party, the EFF, has also slammed government for the decision to reopen churches.
In a virtual press briefing on Thursday, EFF leader Julius Malema pleaded with religious leaders to not open their places of worship, saying that if they cared for their congregations and had high moral standards, they would keep them out of danger, News24 reported.
Malema said: “Do not go to church, you going to die, it’s a trap, a set-up.”
South Africa moves to Level 3 on Monday. Places of worship will be expected to not have more than 50 congregants and maintain a 1.5-metre physical distance. Services will also be limited to two hours.