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Experts warn of post-Covid 'cult groups' targeting the desperate

12 August 2020 - 16:31 By Nomahlubi Jordaan
Psychologists say there will be a proliferation of cult-like churches when the coronavirus pandemic is over.
Psychologists say there will be a proliferation of cult-like churches when the coronavirus pandemic is over.
Image: 123RF/Goran Bogicevic

“Cult groups” are likely to emerge once the coronavirus pandemic heads out of SA, as people become “desperate for solutions to their problems”.

This is the warning from psychologists on Wednesday, speaking at a virtual seminar hosted by the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission).

“The pandemic has disrupted people’s lives,” said psychologist Dr Saths Cooper. “In the next three to five months we will see a proliferation of cult groups. We must think post the pandemic era.”

Cooper said those who had lost their jobs in the wake of the pandemic would, when it was over, look for quick-fire solutions to their problems — and cult-like churches would provide this hope. Describing the targets of such “churches”, Cooper said they were normally young adults aged between 15 and 24.

“These groups of adults are vulnerable. The space they occupy makes them vulnerable, and they can be easily persuaded,” Cooper said.

The vulnerable group, he said, was internet and social media savvy, and was targeted through social media platforms.

FH Havinga, a psychologist and theologian, said when a person joined a cult they were “programmed” into believing in certain ways of doing things.

“They [occultists] will tell you there are certain things you need to change. They give you a new identity. You now have to think in a certain way. The end goal will be using reprogramming, with a purpose of making you a slave or bringing you into bondage,” Havinga said.

Occultists, he said, controlled their followers’ finances.

“People have to give certain percentages of their salaries to the group. They control thoughts. There are no open channels. You listen, you obey or you get punished. They control the person’s emotions,” he said.

Jay Israel, a controversial pastor and former occultist, said he had travelled the world to look for spiritual freedom.

“Every cult uses the Bible. There is praise and a worship team,” he said.

Relating his story of being an occultist, Israel said: “Before 2017, I met a man of God from the UK. I became his spiritual son. Having been involved in the cult, I needed help. I could not sleep at night. I wanted out.”

He said he subsequently received death threats.

“I met up with the wrong people again. My situation became worse. I was introduced to another man of God. I was his son until 2019. Even when I was there I was looking for help. I was introduced to the power of money. If you don’t have an inquisitive eye, you would sit and think everything is OK,” he said.

Cults emphasise money, Israel said.

“It’s about ways of making people worship the leader. There are certain prayers that are prayed. A lot of things happen. Women 'sacrifices' are done [in some cults], where a pastor has to sleep with virgin girls to enhance their power.

“You have to sleep with two or three women a week. You will sleep with a woman before you preach. The towel used to wipe semen is used for some ritual,” he said.