Religious leaders reject Covid-19 restrictions allowing 50% church capacity if fully vaccinated

The Bishop of Grace Bible Church, Mosa Sono. Picture: Supplied

The Bishop of Grace Bible Church, Mosa Sono. Picture: Supplied

Published Mar 25, 2022


Pretoria - Religious leaders have rejected the Covid -19 Risk Adjusted Strategy allowing the use of 50% of the capacity of churches, provided congregants are fully vaccinated or have a negative diagnosis not older than 72 hours.

The adjusted strategy was announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa during the latest “family meeting” on Tuesday.

The International Federation of Christian Churches has rejected the conditions, saying a vaccine mandate was not welcome because it would violate the rights of religious freedom guaranteed in the country’s Constitution.

According to the organisation, to discriminate against people who are not vaccinated is a violation of their basic human rights.

“Furthermore, it is not desirable nor feasible to put this on our doorstep and we believe it will be ill-advised should the government move in this direction as it would amount to the unwarranted provocation of the faith community,” said Pastor Giet Khosa, secretary-general of the organisation.

Khosa was speaking on behalf of the executive leadership of the organisation, Pastor Ray McCauley, Pastor At Boshoff, Bishop Mosa Sono and Pastor Don Phillips.

The cleric said that on December 13 last year they were called to an urgent consultative meeting on the vaccine mandate with the Minister in the Presidency, Mondli Gungubele.

“In the consultation the leadership and other faith leaders made it very clear and objected to the idea of a vaccine mandate. We had asked the honourable minister to communicate to the president that the vaccine mandate was not welcomed whatsoever ...

“On March 8, we were notified that an urgent virtual meeting would be held with Deputy President David Mabuza and the inter-faith leaders to engage on the Covid-19 Risk Adjusted Strategy as per outcomes of the National Coronavirus Command Council meeting.

“In this virtual meeting, the deputy president raised the issue of 50% capacity in venues with the condition that the congregants must be fully vaccinated and have proof of a certificate to be allowed in the venue.

“Again, the leadership and other faith leaders strongly objected … We further state that this was impractical and impossible to even implement, and question the double standards being applied to other sectors of which certain conditions are not required.

“Both the minister and the deputy president promised to provide us with feedback, which has not materialised.”

Khosa said while the organisation welcomed the 50% capacity – this has been its request for the past 24 months or so – it was outraged, dismayed, disappointed and “absolutely gutted” by the announcement from Ramaphosa.

“More so, the idea of the vaccine mandate had been brought to our attention in the consultation, and we had strongly opposed this idea and given the reasons and dangers of this path. We therefore found this announcement highly ill-advised and are totally opposed it.”

Khosa said while the president mentioned that he had consulted with “some religious leaders” – which the federation was part of – they wanted to point out that they never received a formal feedback or a response and were thus caught off-guard by the president’s announcement.

The fact is that every religious leader opposed the suggestion to provide vaccine certificates to allow people to attend church.

“This again proves that our government has no respect for the religious leaders of South Africa or any input they receive from them,” said Khosa.

“We strongly oppose this ‘backdoor’ vaccine mandate, we will not support it in any way, shape or form … Some churches and other places of worship had created demarcated areas to support the vaccination drive of the government. We understand the cause but the response of our government is as a slap in our faces and we will not take this lying down.”

Khosa referred to the views of leading vaccinologist Professor Shabir Madhi, the dean of the faculty of health sciences and professor of at the University of the Witwatersrand, who told eNCA “the president’s announcement was disappointing”.

“He said there was an opportunity to make a break from when the pandemic started … Largely the announcement depended on the regulations that have already been announced by the Department of Health for public comment, which are in its current form illogical, irregular, incoherent and inconsistent.

“South Africa is in a different space in the pandemic where 80 to 85% people had already been infected at least once by Covid- 19, which proves that the measures that were put in place by government had failed. What the government should be doing is not to try to prevent infection because it has failed in the past but rather mitigate the consequences of the infection.”

According to Khosa, the latest announcement by the president was highly unacceptable and very confrontational to the faith community.

“We have now been put in a difficult position to oppose this and we have been left with no choice but to refuse to accept this condition.

“The question needs to be asked why there were never any vaccination certificates required for polio, TB or measles before? Why suddenly now?

“Also, since the outbreak of the HIV pandemic, we have done everything as a country to protect the dignity of the individuals infected with the virus, although we know it is a very transmissible and deadly virus.”

Pretoria News