Pastor David Setilo, Secretary-general of the Galeshewe Pastors Organization with Archbishop Naledi Sekgoro in Albert Luthuli Street after she erected her shanty church. They have been waiting for land from the municipality for more than 10 years. Picture: Soraya Crowie
Kimberley - Illegal shanty churches are mushrooming in Galeshewe after the Galeshewe Pastors’ Organisation gave all religious organisations in the city the thumbs up to claim land for their churches.

The secretary general of the Galeshewe Pastors’ Organisation, David Setilo, encouraged non-members and other churches to also occupy vacant plots and dumping sites in and around the city.

“About 171 church shanties were erected since the weekend and they (the municipality) cannot order us to tear our places of worship down unless all the other church tents and illegal churches in the city are also demolished.”

He stated that seven years after following the correct channels and engaging with the Sol Plaatje Municipality, they were not willing to wait any longer for land to be approved for the erection of churches.

“We are tired of waiting. The municipality signed our petition in 2014 where they agreed to respond to us within seven days to allocate land to our organisation for 200 churches as well as to provide basic services such as water, electricity and sanitation. We are prepared to go to court to fight for our land.”

Setilo was aggrieved that other churches and foreigners were given preference for land.

“We do not know if they are bribing officials. Foreigners arrive in the city and are immediately given land ahead of us, who have been following the correct channels since 2010.”

Archbishop Naledi Sekgoro, who erected her shanty church in John Daka Road over the weekend, said they held their first service at the new premises last night.

“We have been congregating in backyards since the Naledi Yabaetapele Apostolic Church in Zion was established in 1993.”

She explained that she had refused to demolish her church when the ward councillor had warned her that it was illegal.

“The church is very small at the moment but I will expand it to accommodate congregants from seven provinces that will be attending our Easter conference from March 14 to 16. We will erect a tent so that our members will not have to burn in the sun.”

Sekgoro added that the church was erected on an old dumping site.

“We have cleaned up the area and have chased away the vagrants. I cannot understand why the land cannot be allocated to us because it was apportioned as church land by the council.”

Spokesman for Sol Plaatje Municipality, Sello Matsie, indicated that all applications for land were being processed.

“We request all applicants, including churches, to be patient. While we respect the right to worship, the correct processes must be followed. The land would have been allocated a long time ago, if fixed structures were constructed on the land within the specified two year period. If no building is built in that time, the land reverts back to the municipality.”

He pointed out that land was a limited resource.

“We do allow the temporary erection of structures for events such as outreach programmes but we will not allow anyone to indefinitely invade land. No one is being given special treatment.”

Matsie invited the pastors to approach the leadership of the city council if they were aggrieved.

“These are men of God and we do not expect them to exaggerate the truth regarding the construction of 171 illegal churches in order to prove a point.”

In February last year, council insisted that municipal land would not be allocated to local churches without follow due processes.

It pointed out that over 500 applications had been received from local churches for land since 2013 and warned against fly-by-night churches that were causing backlogs.

Sol Plaatje applied for a court interdict to prevent the illegal occupation of municipal land following land invasions, including plots on the R31 between Kimberley and Barkly West, as well as on two properties in Galeshewe, in June last year.

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