File picture: Pixabay
File picture: Pixabay

Government's decision to reopen religious institutions sparks mixed reactions

By Zintle Mahlati Time of article published May 27, 2020

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Johannesburg - President Cyril Ramaphosa's announcement that religious institutions would be allowed to reopen for services under level 3 of the national lockdown has received mixed reactions with some calling the decision reckless.

Ramaphosa addressed the nation for a second time this week on Tuesday night laying out the National Coronavirus Command Council's decision to allow churches, mosques and synagogues to reopen under level 3.

The decision follows lobbying from the religious sector following meetings Ramaphosa held with some of the country's religious leaders.

Places of worship would be allowed to host services but with a limit of 50 people and with congregants expected to wear masks and practice physical distancing.

The president said May 31 would be a national day of prayer for the country ahead of the move to Level 3.

However, not everyone has welcomed the decision with some calling it irrational as other organisations and businesses were forced to remain closed even though they could operate with limited numbers.

Fears are growing with questions mounting as to how religious institutions would be able to limit the number of people who attend.

Some of the country's places of worship usually see hundreds of congregants on normal services.

The Jesuit Institute, a Catholic focused organisation, said it was concerned about the president's decision. The organisation said it appeared rushed and questionable as evidence from other countries had shown that places of worship were also a breeding ground for the spread of the coronavirus.

"This move seems to contradict the president’s oft-repeated phrase that we must be “guided by the overriding principle of doing whatever it takes to preserve life. The government is also sending mixed messages. While a ban on friend and family visits remains in place, it seems illogical that people can gather in places of worship," the organisation said.

The organisation has questioned who would police places of worship that were complying with the rules.

"Many places of worship do not have the financial capacity to provide the prescribed personal protective equipment and/or personnel to sanitize the buildings, furniture and equipment that is necessary. Will police check places of worship and break up gatherings of more than 50 persons?"

But some religious leaders have welcomed the decision. At Boshoff, the founder of the Christian Revival Church tweeted a thank you message to Ramaphosa following his announcement.

"Thank you, Mr President. Thank you for hearing the plea of the faith community to help South Africa," Boshoff said to his over 70 000 Twitter followers.

Another religious leader who has welcomed the decision is Reverend and MP Kenneth Moeshoe, who is also the leader of the ACDP political party.
Meshoe had been at the forefront in the religious sector's fight for places of worship to reopen.

He said these places provided comfort and humanitarian work. The ACDP leader's comments follow his recovery from the coronavirus.

He contracted the virus after he attended a religious event held in Bloemfontein in the Free State.

The event was attended by various foreign nationals who later tested positive for the virus. Several people who attended the event tested positive with many of the Free State's cases originating from the event held in March. 


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