The South African National Christian Forum (SANCF) — which was due to face off with the government in the high court in Johannesburg on Tuesday over the banning of religious gatherings under lockdown regulations — will continue with the court proceedings.
The council hailed Ramaphosa’s decision on Monday night to reopen churches as a partial answered prayer, but said it would still be meeting the co-operative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) department.
Taking to their Facebook page after Ramaphosa announced an ease on the lockdown restrictions, essentially allowing churches to operate under strict conditions, SANCF said: “We had two parts of motion, part A and part B. We’re still going to pursue an order on part B but it won’t be on an urgent court roll. Our part B is an order that the court must issue to the government that from now on no decision should be made regarding the religious sector without discussing it with SANCF first.”
Church gatherings had been listed by the government as among the super-spreader events of the Covid-19 virus but faith leaders have lambasted government throughout the lockdown for shutting their doors without proper consultation.
But some churchgoers eager to gather in prayer have been defiant. Last month, police clashed with worshippers who chose to defy lockdown regulations and gathered for a church service in Sebokeng.
Some churches in Sebokeng are refusing to remain closed as required under lockdown level three. Several groups of churches have called a meeting for today. The Police have arrived and shut down the gathering. @ManqobaMchunu is there. #eNCA Courtesy #DStv403 pic.twitter.com/PEWyBbINqL
— eNCA (@eNCA) January 10, 2021
TimesLIVE reported that the police used rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse a group of about 250 people who had gathered for the service.
Two church leaders, aged 47 and 69, were arrested for contravening level 3 lockdown regulations while a 62-year-old woman was arrested for a similar contravention and for an additional charge of public violence.
Among those who expressed their outrage at the time was ACDP president Rev Kenneth Meshoe, who questioned why casinos, restaurants, movie theatres and shopping malls have been allowed to operate, but not churches.
Under the adjusted level 3 regulations announced on Monday, Ramaphosa said: “Faith-based gatherings will be permitted, subject to health protocols. Such gatherings may not exceed 50 people for indoor venues and 100 people for outdoor venues.
“Where the venue is too small to accommodate these numbers with appropriate social distancing, then no more than 50% of the capacity of the venue may be used,” he added.