Pietermaritzburg – A “cunning” Pietermaritzburg pastor has been fingered by the South African health attaché in Havana for allegedly leading a student doctor to mental illness through his teachings and sermons.
The accusation, which has been levelled against the senior pastor of Threshing Floor Bible Church, Apostle S.C. Maduna, has been firmly denied.
According to the Health Department, Maduna “sneaked into Cuba as a tourist” and is responsible for the students posting their worst ever results since start of the RSA/Cuban Medical Training Programme, which sees students from impoverished backgrounds sent to Cuba to study medicine by the KZN Department of Health.
The matter has been deemed so urgent that Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo is expected to fly to Cuba today along with a clinical psychologist.
The department said the Havana health attaché “raised concern” that a “medical student” seems to be “mentally disturbed after attending sermons by a KZN pastor”.
The students have been accused of missing lectures, instead spending time preaching on the street corners of the capital in the communist island state.
According to the department, 26 students failed their academic year and must repeat their studies, with a further 22 facing “exclusion due to being absent for more than 20% of class attendance days”.
Dhlomo said the pastor was transported and accommodated by the students using their “meagre stipends”.
“The pastor told them to prioritise this [their religion] over and above their studies. I am going there to plead with the students to prioritise their studies,” Dhlomo told The Witness.
He said the Health Department was not opposed to religious activities, “but students cannot be praying for seven hours a day”.
“Those who want to follow their pastoral callings must come back to South Africa with me. They need to apply to pay back the funds that sent them there because the students went there for a reason and that is to study medicine,” he said.
Church spokesperson Ntokozo Biyela confirmed Maduna’s visit in September/October 2015, but said that everything was above board.
“He applied for a visa like anyone else and visited the students at their invitation. He then visited Europe before returning to South Africa. It is strange they would link the church to mental illness. We are expanding and preaching the word of God and the healings of the Holy Spirit. We preach the gospel and are not a prosperity- or blessing-teaching church that is run like a business,” said Biyela.
He said the church had not been informed by the department of any allegations levelled against it.
According to the department, Maduna should have obtained a working visa to enter Cuba.
It is unclear whether the South African mission in Cuba has come under pressure from that government. Freedom of religion was heavily curtailed after the Cuban revolution, with church land confiscated by the state and religious schools shut down. However, according to USA Today, Christianity has slowly returned, with the state giving permission in 2014 for the first new church to be constructed since the revolution.
The department said the students have a daily Bible study, church service, and midnight and early morning prayer meetings, and are neglecting their studies.
It says Maduna has anointed students as pastors, prophets and evangelists.
“[He is] doing all this in violation of the visa rules as he had entered Cuba as a tourist, having not procured a work permit. Those anointed now go out of campuses and preach on street corners, trying to convert Cubans,” said a department statement. It said Dhlomo had consulted with “50 religious leaders” as well as the provincial executive to seek “guidance on this matter”.
“We have pinned great hopes on this RSA/Cuban Medical Training Programme as we have set ourselves a goal of producing more than a thousand doctors by the year 2020. We cannot allow it to be wrecked by opportunists and a cunning ‘pastor’ who preys on young and poor students,” said Dhlomo.
Travel agent and Harvey World KimZan managing director Claudia Pillay said a person only needed a working visa if they would be paid in the currency of the country they were visiting.
“If this pastor was invited and not paid for preaching overseas, then he would not need a working visa. He is a tourist,” said Pillay.
Attempts to reach the Cuban Embassy in South Africa were unsuccessful.
In 2013, The Witness reported that fewer than half of the South Africans sent to Cuba to train as doctors had completed the course.
Between 1997 and 2009, the government sent 624 medical students to Cuba, but according to parliamentary records, in October 2011 Health director-general Precious Matsoso revealed that by that date only 257 had qualified as doctors.
In January that year the department revealed that six students had given up their scholarships and returned home in a dispute over stipends the government pays them over and above their living expenses.
They were part of a group of 187 students who went on strike, complaining about the pocket money and the food.
They wanted the stipend increased from R1 600 a month to more than R6 300 at the time.