'Congregation capture' - political analyst on why people flock to cult churches

17 March 2018 - 12:15 By Kgaugelo Masweneng
Image: Gallo Images/iStockphoto

In trying to unpack why people become subjects of cult churches‚ political analyst Dr Somadoda Fikeni says when people go through difficulties due to a leadership crisis‚ they often suspend all sense of rationality.

His analogy was that oftentimes when pressed with socioeconomic‚ political and other struggles‚ through sacrifice‚ people start hoping that "something dramatic will come. That maybe‚ just maybe this may restore us."

On the question of why pastors are getting richer while their congregants remain poor‚ Fikeni said that during a time of poverty people are "persuaded to give up their little".

"They tell you that ‘if I touch you‚ you will get a job‚ others did too’. It is this time when people surrender their goods to a pastor. The time when people surrender any sense of vigilance and rationality. They begin to wallow in a period of despair‚" he said.

He said that pastors should be servants of society and not be parasitical by taking money from the poor.

"I didn't know heaven had supermarkets. Once people have been told that the doomsday is coming and they have to surrender their possessions. The rules of the game should be fair and transparent. We talk of state capture but we don't talk about the congregation capture‚" he said.

He likened promises made by cults to that of a democratic‚ free and fair South Africa where all would live in harmony and peace with others post-apartheid.

"We had a period of promise when Nelson Mandela came up. The transition‚ the euphoria‚ people began to envision touching the promise of a new life‚" Fikeni said.

But after all of this they are left desperate to make a living. As a result‚ people resort to social spaces "where they seek miracles‚ instant magic".

He said the responsibility of curbing the mushrooming of cult churches lay in the hands of politicians.

Fikeni and other bodies of opinion sought to explore the psychology of people who are in cults or worship cult personalities‚ as well as political dynamics in South Africa that may allow or promote cults to flourish.

The conversation took place at the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural‚ Religious‚ and Linguistic Communities (CRL) in Johannesburg on Friday.

CRL Chairperson Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said it would be difficult fighting cult churches as no one was ready to challenge the status quo.

"We are talking about a multi-billion rand industry with millions of followers. It's about numbers. It is so unbelievably easy to come into the country and open a church. When you go to Home Affairs and apply for a permit to be a pastor‚ they open the door for you‚" said Mkhwanazi-Xaluva.

Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said that the likes of the Seven Angels Ministry church in Ngcobo would not have flourished if parliament had not declined the commission's peer review mechanism recommendation for churches.

"The same day we got the response from parliament that the peer review mechanism won't work‚ was the day police arrested the Mangoba brothers‚" she said.

Leaders of the Mancoba Seven Angels Ministry cult – called “angels” by their members – are alleged to have been the masterminds behind the recent massacre of five police officers and a retired soldier at a police station in Ngcobo in the Eastern Cape.

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