A major interfaith organisation, the South African Religious Forum (SARF), has sharply criticised church leaders who have called on their congregations to gather and celebrate Easter in their numbers – despite restrictions on gatherings of more than 100 people and a nationwide lockdown which kicks in at midnight tomorrow, Thursday March 26.
The lockdown will be in force for 21 days, until midnight on Thursday April 16.
The SARF has called on churches to remain vigilant against pastors who are calling for churches to remain open over the Easter weekend.
This came days after a prominent bishop of Nkanyezi Church of Christ in KwaZulu-Natal told followers not to worry about the pandemic and that President Cyril Ramaphosa “is not God”.
This provoked condemnation from SARF who warned that large gatherings would help spread the coronavirus.
A week before announcing the lockdown, President Ramaphosa had declared a national state of disaster, enforcing a travel ban as well as other measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
On Saturday, the interfaith leaders met in Khayelitsha to appeal to its members and the community to respect the president’s call for social distancing.
Leader of High Calling Global Ministries in Lotus River, Bishop Paul Phillips added his voice to the call for social distancing and self isolation. “Our stance is, we are in line with the president. We encourage every church or belief to do the same. This Is the good time for us to unite. This is the time to be creative. Let us be law abiding citizens,” he said.
He added that everyone was being challenged during this difficult time, including the religious sector and urged the church, Rastafarians, traditionalists, Hindus, Muslims and all other beliefs to open their hearts to the most vulnerable, including the poor and elderly. “This is time to show what love is. Open up your heart and deliver food to the vulnerable, the children, elders, and the poor. Donate whatever you can. Let us be the solution. Lead out people to where they can be safe,” he said.
While some religious leaders stressed that places of worship would remain open, albeit with strict restrictions on the size of gatherings, that would not be allowed under lockdown.
Dr Elouise Rossouw, deputy chairperson of SARF and pastor at Kingdom Stewards International in Eastridge, Mitchell’s Plain, also attacked the church leaders who had called their congregants to gather during Easter.
“We cannot teach our people to disobey. Maybe this time churches should learn to pray 24/7. Maybe this is what God wants. If we continue misleading people, we are putting our congregants’ lives at risk,” she said.
Dr Rossouw has pleaded with communities to heed the restrictions in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. “Kindly adhere and obey what the president has said. This onslaught is not from God but straight from the pit of hell. Let us stay united,” she said.
Traditional leader and a member of the forum MaDlami Skaap dismissed traditional leaders who claimed to have a cure for coronavirus. “There is no muti, no rub and no herb that can cure this. If any traditional healer or inyanga claims to have a cure, that’s fantasy. That is a lie. People should please not believe such lies,” she said.