Religious leaders unhappy with legislated 100 people limit
Pretoria - Religious leaders want more people than the legislated 100 to be allowed to attend church services during alert level 1 of the lockdown.
Yesterday, some of them accused the government of being unfair towards churches by not allowing them an attendance of at least 50% of the capacity of their buildings during services.
On Sunday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa eased the country from lockdown alert level 3 to 1 – and with that, an increase in the number of people permitted at gatherings to 100 indoors and 250 outdoors. Previously under level 1, the government allowed 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors.
In response, Grace Bible Church founder and presiding bishop Mosa Sono said he was of the opinion that churches should be allowed to operate at 50% capacity of their buildings. He said churches were not “super-spreaders” of Covid-19.
"This is simply not true. There is no evidence, except the one incident at the beginning of the pandemic in March last year in Bloemfontein.
“At that time, no one knew was what happening with this virus," Sono told thousands of people who joined the church's virtual early morning prayer hour yesterday.
"What we are not told is that people involved in that event adopted the safety protocols and went into quarantine, and that only one life was lost while the rest of the people recovered.
"What concern me is that because we as churches comply with the regulations, our rights are simply trampled upon. We will not agree."
He said there had been an increase in domestic violence and people experiencing depression and anxiety, as well as mental illnesses since the outbreak of the Covid-19. One of the reasons was that people were not getting a chance to go to church.
"Yes, they can log in on social media or watch on TV, but it is not the same. You want to be in a church, in the same building and surrounded by other believers."
He quoted various scriptures showing the importance of believers worshipping together.
"Yes, you can pray alone and have a personal relationship with God. However, there is a certain dynamic that comes with being together; in church there is greater, stronger and more powerful anointing.
"We miss church. Our right to meet has been trampled upon. We should be treated like shopping malls and taxis; we should be allowed at least 50% of the capacity of the buildings. The 100 for indoors and 250 outdoors is simply not enough.
"With winter coming up, we will not be able to meet outdoors and thus will be confined to 100 people. Easter is around the corner and we want to celebrate the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ."
Sono further urged churches to be an example and stick to safety protocols, adding that he would motivate fellow preachers to show a high degree of responsibility.
He added they would explore other processes, including legal, to state these matters and ask the government to allow churches to use 50% of the capacity of their buildings.
"It is not like we are asking for something that has not been done. We are saying we do not understand the rationale behind not being allowed to use 50% of the capacity of our buildings. We will pursue this respectfully, but firmly and decisively," he added.
Reverend Chris Mathebula of Hope Restoration Ministries told Newzroom Afrika TV channel that the government continued to overlook churches.
"My church has a capacity of 3 000 people, and now you tell me I should bring in only 100 people. How do you calculate that?
"Children can go back to school; people can go back to the tavern; they can go back to restaurants, but you can't trust people who are sober and mature who are in church? What does that mean?
"As churches and ministers, we are really unhappy. Our government continues to exercise double standards and we are not happy about that."
Mathebula said they had tried very hard to calm down church members and leaders and urged them to comply with the government.
"However, they continue to overlook us … The borders will be opened and buildings will be full; I don't understand why I should have 100 people in a building with a capacity of 3 000 people, or 2 000 people."
Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, told the news channel that the 100 capacity favoured churches with smaller congregations.
However, he said the number could be a challenge with bigger churches. He said churches should continue to engage the government on vaccine roll-out "so that the entire population can be immunised“.
Phumla Williams, the director-general of Government Communication and Information Systems, referred enquiries to the Ministry of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, which could not be reached for comment.