FILE PHOTO: Photo illustration of South African bank notes displayed next to American dollar notes

Religion is a big business and religious leaders should also pay tax, says Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL) chairperson. 

According to CRL, religious leaders and institutions must be registered and pay tax like any other business in South Africa and foreign nationals wishing to open churches in South Africa should undergo a strict vetting process. The final report of the CRL contained some of these recommendations following its investigation into the commercialisation of churches in South Africa. The investigation followed reports of irregular practises by some church leaders which included congregants being made to eat grass, snakes and sprayed with pesticides. According to the CRL Rights Commission there are no official figures of how many religious leaders and institutions exist in the country. The commission’s Mkhwanazi-Xaluva says they want to end all of this. 

“If parliament accepts our proposals as they are we can assure the nation with one thing that the circus will be over. If this is implemented as is with no changes, you will see serious changes in this country and there will be peace and order.” 

She said “Sars should do an in depth investigation into possible tax evasion by some religious leaders and religious institutions in partnership with the CRL Rights Commission”.  

“One of the religious leaders said, 'You know, to run my ministry I need a million rands a month to keep this thing going.' So, you are talking about good business there.”  

She further said that  there are serious gaps in the systems of the Home Affairs Department in that those claiming to be religious leaders from outside South Africa can practice their faith without producing the necessary documentation and this tends to create tension between the local religious leaders and those from outside South Africa. 

“The Department of Home Affairs should ensure that the foreign religious leaders applying for a work permit is based on a quota work permit like all the other professions. They are not going to take 5000 brain surgeons into the country. They've got a quota system for the work permit. This should apply here as well. They will have a letter of recommendation from the CRL Rights Commission.”