The large room on the first floor of Sowetoâ€™s Orlando Stadium â€” filled with about 400 members of independent churches and religious bodies â€” erupts into ululations and applause as Prophet Samuel Radebe, head of the Revelation Church of God, enters.
â€śHow do we trust such biased, abusive liars?â€ť Radebe asks when he eventually addresses the gathering, mobilised by the All African Federation of Churches in response to what it sees as a bid by the state to control religion â€” driven by the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities.
In 2015, the commission began investigating the commercialisation of religion and the abuse of peopleâ€™s belief systems.
The commissionâ€™s chairperson, Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, says the investigation was undertaken following â€ścontroversial news reports and articles about pastors [that] have left a large section of society questioning whether religion has become a commercial institution or a commodity to enrich a fewâ€ť.
News reports have shone a light on preachersâ€™ potentially harmful practices, including spraying congregants with insecticide and making them eat snakes or drink petrol.
The commissionâ€™s report, which has been tabled before Parliament, includes a recommendation that all religious practitioners be registered with the commission through an accredited umbrella organisation of their choice.
â€śThis was necessitated by the fact that currently there is no comprehensive register where the communities can verify who is a bona fide religious practitioner â€¦ This register will also ensure that the religious leaders are compliant with the various laws of the country,â€ť the report noted.
The recommendations didnâ€™t sit well with those at Orlando Stadium on Saturday.
Radebe is a vocal opponent of the investigation. He refused to appear before the commission and ignored its request to view his churchâ€™s financial statements.
Guest speaker Liverson Mdongo kicks off the discussion: â€śToday we are gathered here in what is going to go down in the annals of history as a gathering of the religious community in protest.
â€śThe report amounts to state control of religion. There should always be, in any democracy, a distinction between religion and state,â€ť he states.