Bishop who paid fine for breaking lockdown laws wants government to compensate churches for lost revenue
The KwaZulu-Natal bishop who paid a R1,500 fine for breaching lockdown violations on Wednesday said the government should compensate churches for the weeks they were forced to shut their doors and did not receive income in the form of tithes and offerings.
Leader of God’s Church Must Rise, Bishop Bheki Ngcobo, said the move by the government to recognise churches as essential services only on lockdown level 3 has had dire consequences.
“We are still going to challenge that in terms of compensating the church. There are churches that already lost their place of worship. They were renting and now they lost it because the [premises] owners want money, lockdown or no lockdown,” Ngcobo said.
He was speaking in an interview with 702 after President Cyril Ramaphosa's announcement that places of worship provide essential services and would therefore be opened when the country moved to lockdown level 3 on June 1.
When making the announcement on Tuesday evening, Ramaphosa said services rendered by religious leaders, including spiritual counselling to individual congregants at their homes, would also fall under the essential service category.
But Ngcobo said this should have been done much earlier, suggesting that as a place providing an essential service, churches should never have been closed to begin with.
“Why did he only open churches at level 3 when he deemed churches as essential services?” Ngcobo asked.
Ramaphosa said one of the requirements when churches opened was for them to host a maximum of 50 people.
“Fifty is too low but it’s better than nothing, because we can meet the government half way,” Ngcobo said in response to this.
“There are churches that have more than 1,000 members but if you want to break down the number, how will you do it?” he said.
The Divine Restoration Church in Bloemfontein in the Free State became a central point at the start of the outbreak and led to the spread of the virus in the province. The church had hosted a three-day conference which was attended by hundreds of congregants, including international guests.
A pastor of the Global Reconciliation Church, who was one of those who attended the conference, was the first person to die of the coronavirus in the province.
Pressed on the church being a potential hotspot for the spread of the virus, Ngcobo said that at the time that the virus broke out and spread in the Free State, there was not a lot of education about the disease and how it spread.
He said since learning about the disease, the church had been in support of the government and the lockdown and they had educated themselves more.
Ngcobo, however, added that the coronavirus was more than just a medical challenge.
“This coronavirus, it is a spiritual warfare, as up until now there is no cure for this disease,” he said.