By Douglas Carew

Christians in Somerset West are uniting to force the closure of an "adult" shop in the suburb, saying exposure to pornography leads to rape and murder.

They are circulating a petition among churches and are planning a mass protest march and continuous picketing outside the shop, a branch of Adult World.

About 120 Christians from various denominations met at the Baptist Church this week to develop a strategy of "sustained social action" to close the store. The group recognises that Adult World is operating within the law, but still intends shutting it down.

The group is taking its lead from two American organisations, the National Coalition Against Pornography and the American Family Association, which brought such economic pressure to bear that 26 000 family stores which used to stock adult magazines resolved never to sell them again.

Arthur Calamaras, who owns the Adult World group, told Sunday Argus: "I operate 100 percent legally. Of all the Adult World stores to jump up and down about, why this one?

"It is tucked away in an industrial area. No children walk past there and people have to get into their cars and drive to the store."

Calamaras, an Australian, said Adult World had operated for 25 years and came to South Africa six years ago. "We have never had to close down a store and I won't be closing this one," he said.

During a presentation at the meeting on Thursday night, Somerset West police media officer Anneka van der Vyfer said hardcore pornographic material was being passed around by school children.

Calamaras said Adult World could not be held responsible if pornographic material found its way into children's hands. "All my stores are under 24-hour surveillance and my staff know that if anyone looks under 18 they have to ask them to produce IDs," Calamaras said.

Anyone under 18 or without proper identity documents was kicked out of the shop, he said.

A parent himself, Calamaras said parents who bought pornography should be responsible and keep it away from their children.

"It is the same with the computer and with videos you get from your local video store," he said.

Van der Vyfer's talk on Thursday was followed by an hour-long multi-media presentation by controversial pastor Peter Hammond, the director of African Christian Action.

Hammond argued that pornography was an insatiable cancer, stalking and devouring with ever-increasing appetite. "The more one ingests, the greater the lust for more."

He argued that rape and murder cases often involved perpetrators who used pornography before committing the crimes. He referred to a police child protection unit handbook which warns against pornography and its involvement in the majority of sex crimes.

Hammond said when the Film and Publications Act was passed in 1996 it legalised pornography and made it possible for child abusers, rapists and paedophiles to get all the material they needed.

"Statistics tell the story as South African Police Service records show that child rape increased by over 400 percent," Hammond said. "Pornography is the theory, rape is the practice."

He said there were three steps to fighting pornography.

First, you had to persuade government agencies such as the Ministry of Home Affairs (which heads the Film and Publications Board), municipal authorities, the police and public prosecutors to severely limit the exposure of pornography.

Second, you needed to alert potential retailers and customers to the dangers and adverse effects of pornography.

Third, you had to persuade publishers not to print the pornography and shop owners not to market it.

"With the highest reported rape rate in the world, South African women need protection and practical support, not pornography, platitudes and public holidays," said organiser Jeanine McGill.

Calamaras said there was no conclusive proof that pornography led to rape or other crimes. "There are a thousand arguments for and a thousand arguments against," he said.

"These church groups have just found a scapegoat for problems in society. When I brought Adult World to Johannesburg six years ago that city was already the crime capital of the world, yet there was no pornography in South Africa."