The gates to hell being guarded by police officers who are still grieving the loss of five colleagues and a soldier in the Eastern Cape at the hands of an alleged cult group. Picture: SAPS

Johannesburg - Joburg has the highest number of religious cult groups in South Africa, says Professor Farid Esack, a lecturer at the Department of Religion Studies at the University of Johannesburg.

“I think it’s safe to say that Joburg has the most cults, followed by Durban and then much less so in Cape Town,” said Esack.

He was addressing the issue of cults in South Africa following the slaying of five police officers and a retired soldier in the Eastern Cape at the hands of an alleged cult group, the Seven Angels Ministry.

The Ministry made headlines last week after seven suspects were shot dead during a shoot-out with police on the church premises, while 10 others were arrested at the church.

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This followed the deadly attack on the Engcobo police station two days earlier in which five police officers and a soldier were killed, allegedly at the hands of a gang who hid at the church.

Esack, who has researched cults for several years, said religious cults were fairly common in South Africa.

"They are more common among the South African immigrant population, especially the immigrant communities from West Africa.

"Then you have small cults among the South African black population and much less below the radar among the South African Indians.”

Esack said he had come across a vast variety of religious cult groups in the last few years.

However, he declined to name them.

“I have come across cult groups in South Africa, but the difficulty in naming them is that you are setting yourself up for defamation.

“I have come across cults that operate in Indian communities, as well as some that even operate in Jewish communities.

“We had a case last year where a rabbi was on the run and he was supported by his cult, but was eventually caught by the police.”

Esack said there wasn't a vast difference between cults operating in South Africa and those abroad.

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“I don’t think there’s any substantial difference between the way cults operate and are organised in South Africa than in the way they operate overseas.

"It’s important to note that they can operate in urban as well as rural environments, as well as in developed societies.

"Last year, we came across a cult that was operated by some white students. It was a satanic cult and one girl was murdered."

Meanwhile, the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission) has urged the government to begin regulating religion in the country.

During a media briefing at the CRL Rights Commission offices in Joburg this week, chairperson Thoko Mkhwanazi Xaluva said systems needed to be put in place to stop those who were not fit to be religious leaders.

“A legislated mechanism would have been able to declare them as non-religious and their licence would have been taken away.”

Xaluva said the CRL Commission had notified Parliament that the Seven Angels church was dangerous, but had no powers to stop them and the time had come to protect citizens.

“We ran a workshop in Parliament to explain the report to explain red flags. We knew at that point that something horrible would happen there if nothing was done about Seven Angels,” Xaluva said.

“All we’ve ever said is that there must be a regulatory framework put in place to avoid such things.”

Xaluva said the time had come for the religious sector to be regulated.

“I clearly said that if nothing was done, people were going to die.”

Saturday Star