Durban Zionist Bishop Bheki Timothy Ngcobo said allowing the consumption of alcohol and the opening of schools while keeping churches closed was an insult to churches and religion. Picture: Facebook
Durban Zionist Bishop Bheki Timothy Ngcobo said allowing the consumption of alcohol and the opening of schools while keeping churches closed was an insult to churches and religion. Picture: Facebook

KZN religious leaders call for relief aid or allowing churches to open

By Sakhiseni Nxumalo and Lyse Commins Time of article published May 26, 2020

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Durban – The KwaZulu-Natal Christian Council has called on the government to either offer relief funding to help religious leaders or to allow churches to open under strict conditions during the Covid-19 lockdown Alert level 3.

Council chairperson Cardinal Wilfrid Napier said on Monday the government had identified business sectors that would lose income during the lockdown and had made funds available to them. He argued the government should similarly assist all church leaders who currently had no income.

“It is up to the government to say whether we churches join in the existing funding systems, or they set up another fund specifically to assist us. When they are looking for people who need relief, the government must not forget the church leaders as well,” said Napier. 

Responding to the announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa to continue the ban of churches gathering on level 3, Napier said churches were not happy with the exclusion. 

He said he could not understand why factories, schools and businesses were allowed to operate, while churches had to remain closed.

Napier argued people spent more than seven to eight hours in workplaces, malls and schools yet congregants spent only and hour or two at a church service.

“If people would socially distance within the church, what’s the difference?  At least for an hour, why are we not allowed? We need to have some kind of explanation as to why are we not allowed to operate. 

“If we would also maintain social distancing, sanitise, wear masks, how is that going to make people be at risk than they are at other allowed areas? I am going to work, why can’t I get to church?” he asked. 

Durban Zionist Bishop Bheki Timothy Ngcobo said that allowing the consumption of alcohol and the opening of schools while keeping churches closed was an insult to churches and religion. 

Ngcobo, chairperson of God’s Church Must Rise Christian Organisation, said the government should recognise the role and responsibility of the church, respect it and give it the place it deserved.

He said that even during Apartheid, churches had played a great role towards building the nation. 

“Even if the government opens the churches on level 2 and 1, we are saying, our faith has been mocked since the beginning of Covid-19. We have been termed useless and non-­essential to the country. If drunkards and workers are better than churches, then our position as a country is very pathetic,” said Ngcobo. 

The Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Ministry’s spokesperson Lungi Mtshali said the relief funding request had been raised with government. 

Mtshali said church leaders had raised the issue which had been discussed at length at a meeting with the president last week.

“We are working with communities and church leaders to find balance in protecting congregants and allowing them to operate in a way, that will not spread the virus,” said Mtshali. 

She said discussions on if churches would be allowed to operate on Level 3 had not yet been concluded and guidelines had not been finalised.

“Now we are opening the counselling phase, which are mainly one-on-one sessions (that religious leaders can hold with congregants). This can be done until the discussion on what protocols will be put in place to allow churches to open fully are finalised,” she said.

“Clearly, not all churches are ready to perform their services the way that it was suggested. We will discuss again with them this week until we come to an understanding,” she said. 

Jamiat Ulama KZN Moulana Abdullah Khan said he supported the call to open places of worship and that mosques should be opened as an essential service to the community. However, he said the trustees of religious institutions had been able to financially support priests during the lockdown.

“If malls and shops are open and people can purchase alcohol for socialising, and you can walk on the beach promenade where thousands of people are walking then we are appealing to the government to let us open and, whatever your requirements are in regard to social distancing, we are willing to abide by and fulfil all those requirements guided by the health department,” he said.

“If a man is spiritually linked as we can feel it – it is an essential part of our life and something that needs to be considered. We pray five times a day. Our community is finding this difficult.”

President of the SA Hindu Maha Sabha, Ashwin Trikamjee, said Hindu priests generally served as a seva (service) to the community and he supported the call for government financial assistance.

“They do not get remunerated for presiding over functions and festivals at temples. Where a priest is employed by a temple, he would receive a salary. However temples are not in a position to pay competitive salaries. Priests have not received any payment during the lockdown,” Trikamjee said.

He said they would have dipped into their savings, if they had any, or received cash or goods from family and well wishers to survive during the lockdown. 

“Hindu priests who are registered with Priests’ Councils should receive some form of remuneration. However, one must note that some Hindu priests have full time jobs and conduct prayer on a part time basis,” he said.

He said priests should also receive UIF payments like other workers.

The Mercury

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