Why pray for your flock, when you can prey on them?

Leader of the Gabola Church, self-proclaimed Pope, Tsietsi Makiti, anoints a newcomer to the Gabola Church with beer during a service in a bar in Orange Farm, south of Johannesburg Sunday, April 15 2018. The new church in South Africa celebrates drinking alcohol and holds enthusiastic, alcohol fuelled services in bars, for those who have been rejected by other churches because they drink alcohol. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)

Africans have always had contradictory relations with religions. Even from 400 years ago when sailors landed in the Cape with bible in one hand and a gun in the other. Missionary objectives have always been double pronged, maybe even single pronged with one being a smokescreen for the other. African resources have been plundered and ploughed in the name of religion in either natural resources or people. Some religions have played a significant role in the liberation of people in Africa. There is a rise of predatory practices in most religions that must be stopped immediately to allow the continent and its people to prosper.     

Fast forward to the current day and we’re seeing a resurgence of this devastating playbook being orchestrated by American, Nigerian, and even South African dogma, promising people profit and prosperity for blind loyalty. This new wave of evangelism is particularly attractive to Africans because it resonates with the clairvoyant nature of African spirituality and materialism of modern day reality. People are raised from wheelchairs as “evil” spirits are vigorously expelled from them. People’s wages and livelihoods are offered as tithe sacrifices for membership, and to buy favour and solicit fortune from God in a sort of twisted investment scheme.

There seems to be a clandestine partnership between these groups and some African governments because during all the madness and abuses, movement against the churches is generally slow if any. It’s a sort of campaign against independent thought. Understandably so because the concept is a threat to both church and state. Especially in Africa where democracy is such a foreign concept to follow, and monolithic rule is favoured against liberal constitutionalism.

So the churches maintain a flock like discourse focused on miracles and metaphysics among the population which conveniently keeps governments free of accountability to the people. So as in the case of a Pentecostal Church in western Uganda, in a community ravaged by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, a pastor attributed people’s sickness to immoral, and irresponsible sexual conduct and that the disease would be cured by prayer. This leaves no room for governmental intervention programmes for treatment and prevention, only prayer.

Closer to home, a child perished at Pastor Paseka Mboro Motsoeneng’s church in Katlehong in 2017 because their mother took her to the church instead of a hospital for treatment. After the Pastor failed to heal the child, the paramedics were called but the child died on the scene. And still even in a simple medical emergency people have been conditioned to trust the church and its antics to heal, and when reality sets in and tricks and sleight of hand fails, it has devastating consequences.

We’ve witnessed gangsters and thugs declare themselves deities to be able to fly under the radar of reason. They’ve tricked entire communities into channelling the little they have to these con artists for salvation, or even to just belong to like-minded people led by a spiritual guide. They’ve raped women and girls and kept them indoctrinated and at their every beck and call. They’ve made people eat grass, snakes, drink petrol and sprayed insecticide on their faces all in the name of deception. People’s desperation become their blinders as they cannot perceive anything but the wild fantasies of these pastors. 

Granted the realm of the metaphysical is a tricky one with faith (the belief in something that cannot be proven) being the epicentre of any religious organization. However even within the blurry lines of Holy Scripture is logic and an almost obsessive vigilance for individuals who use theology for personal gain.

When there is a constant and pervasive threat against a people, when does government decide that regulation is required and enforced? When do governance structures decide to protect vulnerable people that are being plagued by liars and deceitful men out of their pensions, livelihoods and daughters? Or is it by design that the guardians and protectors watch idle while women get forced into harems and made into unwilling concubines for social acceptance. 

The most vulnerable are little girls and women that come from low income homes with no fathers. Possibly because they’re desperate for a better life and a strong male figure, and if that man just so happens to be aligned with God, it sounds like a dream. But soon after reality resembles a nightmare where each of the girls fear objecting because of the other and they all stay bound by their own fears and paranoia.

Church is meant to be a place of solace and peace from the painful and evil perils of everyday life. It is not supposed to be one of them. The agents of death that are seemingly mushrooming all over the most vulnerable of African communities are eroding this notion and are being assisted by the governments that are supposed to fortify peoples well-being. So what are they to do now, who must they turn to?

Dr David Monyae is a senior political analyst and co-director at the University of Johannesburg Confucius Institute.