Cult leader MaMothibi (Nomathamsanqa Ngoma) administers corporal punishment to rebellious congregant Puleng (Tebogo Khalo). Picture: Supplied
In July this year the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities revealed that money, not God, was the cornerstone of a number of the country’s churches. 

This was after the chapter nine institution held hearings that involved religious leaders on their churches’ finances and how they were operated.

Commission chairperson Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva revealed the abuses committed by mainly charismatic churches against their congregants. She bemoaned shocking stories about the abuse of worshippers and the commercialisation of organised religion.

“We are worried that if what we see in some churches continues, it could have detrimental effects on society,” she said.

The inquiry was set up after sensational reports about bogus pastors who were committing all sorts of “miraculous” acts on their flocks, including making them eat rodents and reptiles disguised as chocolate.

The commission’s 33-page report indicated that most South African churches were not genuine places of worship but money-making schemes. The hearings also revealed that most of these churches were operating illegally and not paying taxes. In short, they were cults. The word can be roughly defined as a place of worship where devotion is directed to the founder. Experts have identified cults by a number of features.

These include use of psychological or physical coercion to recruit, indoctrinate and retain members. They form an elite, exclusivist group that isolates itself from broader society. 

The leader is a self-appointed, charismatic and powerful figure who is accountable to no one. Any wealth amassed through its shady schemes benefits only the cult leader.

The Genesis Fellowship Church in Rhythm City has all the hallmarks of a cult.

Recently Puleng Mofokeng (Tebogo Khalo) joined the cult to find spiritual healing and closure after the death of her toddler, Matric, four years ago.

However, she didn’t reckon on the dangers. The church convinced her to cut ties with family and friends but bring along her baby, Mnqobi (Khwezi Mbabela). The toddler was the cult’s prize - its real business is child trafficking. 

The cult’s "no contact" rule isolated her from loved ones and rendered her vulnerable to all sorts of abuse. The leader, MaMothibi (Nomathamsanqa Ngoma) rules her flock with a combination of manipulation and an iron fist. Until her dramatic escape, Puleng was MaMothibi's main victim because of her unbending, rebellious nature.

Typical to cult structures, MaMothibi has a loyal enforcer, Brother Wiseman (Lehlohonolo Saint Seseli). His role is to ensure that the captives are kept in check and any rebellion is suppressed.

This is a topical theme that occurs at a time when there’s outrage against cult leaders such as Prophet Shepherd Bushiri, who is reportedly planning a gala dinner on December 23 in Pretoria where guests are expected to fork out R25000 a person to share a table with him.

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