The South African Council of Churches (SACC) has refuted claims that it coerced the government into allowing places of worship to reopen under Level 3 of the COVID-19 lockdown.
On Tuesday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that religious gatherings of up to 50 people would be permitted.
The SACC, the biggest Christian church organisation with members from the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) to the Catholic and Methodist churches, has championed religious groupings’ calls to have places of worship opened again.
SACC general secretary Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana said the accusation that churches strong-armed the government into making this concession came from those who “failed to appreciate the intensity of people’s spirituality, especially the poorer communities of our society”.
The call for churches to open led to a ferocious debate on social media as many South Africans raised their concerns.
ACDP leader Reverend Kenneth Meshoe was reported saying that Ramaphosa’s reluctance to open places of worship would have implications for next year’s local elections.
The SACC made many concessions in their proposal to reopen churches, which include discouraging the elderly from attending services and disallowing singing.
“I don’t know that government can be coerced because they use their own assessment. There is no way we can [be under] lockdown forever. There has to be some gradual easing,” he said.
Speaking to News24 the day after Ramaphosa’s announcement, Mpumlwana said it would be business unusual at places of worship.
He said SACC member churches were conducting COVID-19 readiness preparations with norms and standards the organisation had created for the religious community.
These standards will allow churches to operate within the framework to ensure numbers are capped and that social distancing is observed, he told News24.