Covid-19: Church groups turn to court over banning of gatherings
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Pretoria - The SA National Christian Forum and other church groups will meet the government in court on February 2 to challenge the banning of church gatherings in terms of the Covid-19 Disaster Management Act regulations.
The forum, together with Cornerstone Church Ministry and the Antioch Bible Church, have filed papers in the Gauteng High Court, Johannesburg, in which they ask that the regulations pertaining to religious gatherings be overturned.
They will also ask the court to compel Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma to include them in any future consultations which affect faith-based gatherings under the act.
The restrictions on faith-based gatherings were again imposed when the government implemented the amended lockdown level 3 regulations in a bid to curb the spread of the Covid-19 second wave.
Pastor Marothi Mashashane of the Cornerstone Church Ministry in Boksburg said in an affidavit that the regulations pertaining to the Christian organisations were unconstitutional and invalid.
He said it curbed people’s right to practise their religion freely, openly and in a democratic system, especially during the time of a pandemic.
He said Cornerstone Church catered for a community largely ravaged by crime, poverty, unemployment, gangsterism, drugs, teen pregnancy, gross domestic violence, gross child neglect, abuse and child-headed households.
As the community was poverty-stricken, congregants often brought food or bread to services to feed some of the flock.
“The input from the pastors and the shepherds has always been to attempt to resolve conflict amicably, to act as an oversight to an escalation of violence as well as a place of safety for children in homes of violence as well as women,” Mashashane said.
“Over the years, several children have seen the church as a place of safety and have sought the direct intervention of the pastors of our church in terms of a home where there is either physical or sexual violence. Yet, now they can no longer seek solace there.
“The children’s ministry has identified about 50 children in extreme and chronic need. These children attend our services and, for example, will be either living with their grannies or in child-headed households and the food parcels that they receive from the church is sometimes the only food they receive to sustain them during the week,” he said.
Mashashane said the impact of the lockdown regulations in terms of sending the church back to a forced lockdown level 5 have been utterly devastating.
“Our ministries have basically been decimated. We cannot identify the needs of the community anymore since these people used to gather on a Sunday.”
Virtual church meetings were not an option, he said, as this poor community did not have access to the internet.
“It also does not lend to the face-to-face requirements needed for counselling, love, proclaiming God’s word as well as administering care and hope in a more human setting,” Mashashane said.
The result of a hard lockdown imposed for a second time on the church had also led to severe depression among pastors.
“The tale of this particular pastor mimics the stress, depression, anxiety as well as chronic fear experienced by many shepherds and pastors around the country,” he said.
The government has not yet filed opposing papers to this application.