SANCF takes govt to court over decision to ban religious gatherings

The forum filed papers at the Johannesburg High Court on Friday to challenge the closure of churches and other places of worship.

FILE: President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the nation on 11 January 2021. Picture: GCIS.

JOHANNESBURG - The South African National Christian Forum (SANCF) is taking government to court over its decision to ban religious gatherings.

The forum filed papers at the Johannesburg High Court on Friday to challenge the closure of churches and other places of worship.

The restrictions on religious and other gatherings were reinstated when President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the move to adjusted level 3 lockdown in response to spiralling numbers of COVID-19 infections.

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The forum said while it fully supports government's fight against the pandemic, the move was irrational.
The forum is demanding that the public be able to attend church services, insisting they are essential.

The forum’s president Bishop Marothi Mashashane said they’ve approached the courts to challenge the constitutionality of what he calls an infringement on the right to faith.

“Did the government declare churches as a hotspot? The answer is no. We are seeking relief from the courts to declare the regulation irrational and unconstitutional.”

Mashashane said there was also widespread unease within faith-based communities about government’s exemption allowing restaurants, casino’s and cinemas to remain open.

“Whether the gathering is for worship or for gambling or for gym or entertainment, government would rather compromise the lives of people in exchange for money. That is the interpretation of it.”

The forum's court action comes after a standoff between police and 250 churchgoers last week who contravened lockdown regulations in Sebokeng.

At least three people were arrested after law enforcement had to use rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse the worshipers.

Meanwhile, liquor traders are calling on Ramaphosa to urgently meet with the alcohol industry to lift the current restriction on the sale of alcohol.

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The industry said the ban on alcohol sales continues to wreak havoc in the sector with thousands of livelihoods on the brink poverty whilst the future of taverns remains in doubt.

This is the third time the industry has had to close down due to lockdown in a bid to alleviate pressure on the overburdened health system, which is battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Liquor Traders Formation’s Lucky Ntimane said the sector wanted the president to support tavern owners with financial assistance and a moratorium on liquor licence fees for up to a year.

Ntimane said off-site sales of alcohol should also be reinstated as the livelihoods of families and over 250,000 workers in the tavern sector are at stake.

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