Lockdown ban on religious gatherings is ‘life and death’ for some pastors

Court hears arguments against outright ban

The long-awaited challenge against the complete nationwide ban imposed on religious gatherings continues in the high court on Tuesday.
The long-awaited challenge against the complete nationwide ban imposed on religious gatherings continues in the high court on Tuesday.
Image: 123RF/ Goran Bogicevic

The SA National Christian Forum (SANCF) says its members are pastors who do not attract a financial stipend or a tithe but receive support from congregants by way of financial contributions or groceries.

These pastors believe in-person worship is necessary as opposed to contemplative prayer.

They want co-operative governance and traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to consider these facts going forward in terms of an outright prohibition on faith-based gatherings.

These are the submissions made in the South Gauteng high court by the SANCF on the second day of an application by four organisations challenging the outright ban on religious gatherings by the minister during some stages of the lockdown.

Samantha Martin, advocate for the SANCF, said pastor members of the forum launched the urgent application earlier this year because two pastors committed suicide and other pastors had no food as a result of the outright ban.

“These are pastors who do not necessarily attract a financial tithe or a financial stipend. In many instances, the community arrives on a Sunday with groceries and that is the context in which they operate.

“They cannot for three, four or five weeks sit at home in contemplative prayer because it essentially means they are starving,” Martin said.

She said this was a matter pertaining to dignity.

“For these particular applicants, UIF and Covid-19 relief is simply not available. For them it is a matter of life and death,” Martin said.

Judge Bashier Vally asked if the SANCF case was about pastors needing to perform their religious rites in a manner that allowed for communal meetings, or about losing income if they cannot have the meetings.

Martin said it was a combination of both. She said pastors meet on a Sunday.

“Part and parcel of that worship and gathering on a Sunday is that there will be a small financial contribution from congregants, but this is unlikely given their financial situation.

“It is a matter of congregants bringing food and groceries for the pastors,” Martin said.

The matter continues with submissions expected from two other applicants, Freedom of Religion SA and the Muslim Lawyers Association.

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