SA likely to see boom in cults after Covid-19, warn researchers
Johannesburg - Researchers are warning that the country is likely to see a growth in the number of cults after Covid-19.
Speaking at a virtual seminar organised by the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL), Sociologist Dr Alex Asakitipi said people losing their family members and their jobs because of Covid-19 might push them to the brink and more vulnerable to cults.
Asakitipi said: “Covid-19 has disrupted so many lives. If the government does not identify those who have been hit hard by the lockdown, in the next 3-5 years we will see a radical proliferation of cultish groups.
“We must begin to think of post-pandemic life. People have lost jobs and loved ones. What are the government and communities doing to support them? These people will become easy targets for cultish groups.”
This was supported by psychologist Dr Saths Cooper, who said: “In times of great uncertainty people look for something to hold on to. Around them there might be chaos, economic trepidation, and so they are looking for a compass that can pull them out of the depressing conditions.
"If our society had more normalcy, had less pulls and pushes to create insecurity and uncertainty, these kinds of phenomena would not survive because people would be embedded; they would be rooted in socio-economic processes and mainstream religious processes that somehow seem to let them down.”
The CRL held the seminar because after their investigation into the Commercialisation of Religion and the Abuse of the People’s Belief Systems members of the public, especially women, started laying complaints about the cult-like practices they experienced at some of churches. The CRL is exploring cults and occultism in churches and how the public can protect themselves from them.
Asakitipi said the cult leaders usually targeted people aged between 15 and 24 years old.
“They know that they are in the transition stage of their lives. That makes them vulnerable to new ideas. They might be transitioning into being a young person or just finished school and looking for a job.”
Cooper said cult leaders were usually narcissists in need of admiration while overvaluing themselves and devaluing their victims. They also often claimed to have a special relationship with God.
“Violence is rarely needed to control the followers. There’s a combination of charisma and the authoritarian that carries through. That in itself builds a pillar of fear. The mirror of the leader's personality is what captures the followers and keeps them in,” Cooper said.
Professor David Luka Mosoma, the chairperson of the CRL Rights commission, said African cults also had their own characteristics.
“You see the use of oil to hypnotise people. The cult leaders also go to different countries to buy their powers. There is an underlying process that has taken root in South Africa. People go to other countries to receive spiritual powers. These are the elements our people are reporting to the CRL,” Mosoma said.