2006-12-31 : Clerics call for tough action on crime

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2006-12-31 : Clerics call for tough action on crime

Postby GOSA » Wed, 2007-01-03 13:19

The Sunday Times email comments to: tellus@sundaytimes.co.za

Clerics call for tough action on crime


31 December

'The wife of one of our ministers was raped while she lay in bed next to him ... a pastor's grandchild was raped in the manse'

New Year 'looming like a dark cloud for many South Africans'

South Africa's religious leaders have called on the government to toughen up on punishment for criminals as escalating crime hits places of worship in the country.

In an unprecedented move ahead of a scheduled meeting next month with Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula, religious leaders this week charged that criminals have put churches, synagogues, mosques and temples under virtual siege.

Cardinal Wilfred Napier, who heads the 3.1 million-strong Catholic Church in the country, said churches and other places of worship have become targets for criminals who have attacked parishioners during prayers.

'We have become soft targets for criminals. I am not talking about incidences of car theft but some of our priests and nuns have experienced physical attacks ,' Napier said. 'We are under siege and this is sinister. Religious institutions are now the playground of criminals.'

In an unusually grim New Year's message, the president of the 1.2 million-strong Apostolic Faith Mission, Dr Isak Burger, wrote that South Africa was "bleeding to death" and "no one feels safe" at the dawn of 2007.

He urged the government to deploy extreme measures to help ordinary citizens overwhelmed by crime.

"It's an extraordinary situation and requires extraordinary steps. It almost necessitates the proclamation of a state of emergency," said Burger.

Seldom has Burger been faced with so much anger, frustration and despondency among the church's members at the start of a new year.

"This year seems to be looming like a dark cloud for many South Africans. And it has mostly to do with the government's inability, ineffectiveness and seeming lack of determination to stem the tide of uncontrolled crime and violence," he wrote.

In the past few months, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu establishments have experienced an increase in armed robberies, burglaries and theft.

"We're seen as a soft target," said Burger. "A few years ago in Pretoria, the wife of one of our ministers was raped while she lay in bed next to him. And, in KwaZulu-Natal, a pastor's grandchild was raped in the manse during a burglary," he said.

In some instances the religious institutions have resorted to armed guards and two-ways radio systems to protect parishioners during sermons and prayers.

Michael Bagraim, national director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, said crime had become so bad that synagogues " have a two-way radio system and a control room to notify the police" of incidents.

"Houses of worship are no longer viewed as sacred by criminals and this calls for us to be proactive," Bagraim said.

The Nazareth Christian Church, popularly known as the Shembe Church, has established its own security apparatus to thwart criminals.

Spokesman Enoch Mthembu said: "We now have a task team that deals specifically with the security of our people and their possessions. Criminals in this country have more rights than citizens. They kill a person today and they are out on bail in the next few weeks. This doesn't help."

Muslim representative Moulana Abdur Raoof said: "I think [President] Thabo Mbeki should stand up and say "enough is enough"."

Burger said politicians who advised people who complained about crime to leave the country, "are not aware of the intensity of emotion on grassroots level ... the incredible suffering".

Speaking on behalf of the Anglican Church, which has about two million members in South Africa, Father Joe Mdhlela said that although crime was a "national crisis", declaring a state of emergency would be "going overboard".

However, he agreed that "government can't abdicate its duties to ensure our safety".
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