The deadly attack on the International Pentecost Holiness Church (IPHC) in Zuurbekom on 11 July 2020, in which five people died, was mostly due to succession battles, the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission) has found.
The commission last week started a mediation process between four groups in the church that are fighting for control.
The succession drama started when the IPHC's founder and leader, Frederick Samuel Modise, died on 21 September 1998. His only son, Glayton Modise, then took over leadership of the wealthy mega-church until his death on 9 February 2016. Glayton left an intestate will of about R400 million in luxury cars, properties, investments and cash, and Michael Sandlana was appointed IPHC church leader. Glayton's sons and others have been battling it out for control of the church ever since.
A court case over the succession matter has been ongoing for five years and doesn't seem to be near finalisation.
The commission decided to bring the four groups together "to try and ventilate their views on this issue", it said in a statement.
"It was impressed on the parties, at the beginning of the deliberations that they need to find a workable solution to stop the conflict, as the church is supposed to be a sacred and safe environment for the congregants to practise their right of religious freedom."
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One of the groups declined the invitation, saying they did not participate in the incident on 11 July 2020, and that "the church's succession trial is still with the courts pending the trial date and they did not want to comment on issues that are sub judice".
"Each group was given an opportunity to put their case forward on what they perceived to be the cause of the conflict that prevails in the church," the commission said.
"The Commission has established that the problems are premised on the contested succession battle taking place, power, the assets and finances of the church. The issues of financials and assets in the church are incidental to the discoveries made by the Commission during its investigation into commercialisation of religion and abuse of people's belief system," it said.
It became clear that the lack of a clear succession plan in the church is one of the main contributing factors of the conflict, it added.
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"This gap is not confined to this church, but has affected various other churches and bodies of worship resulting in the country seeing various court battles over succession like in other churches.
The commission added that there is a need for a guide on the succession plan in the religious sector and will be developing such guidelines, in consultation with the broader church, to resolve this issue.
"The plan is to go beyond hereditary succession and to look at a leadership based on the character, skills and integrity of leadership."
After the mediation, the groups came up with resolutions, including:
That each group/church remain where they are currently located subject to the leadership court case;
That the groups have to respect each other; and that no leader should incite or instigate any form of violence towards the other parties;
That each group upholds the agreement entered into by their respective legal teams, before the court, as mandated by each church; and
That all churches converge annually at the headquarters in Silo, Zuurbekom for pilgrimage and church rituals, and that all leaders come to the table with other leaders who are willing to cooperate with one another.
The commission said it would "continue to try and mediate between the parties to assist them to find each other with a view to foster tolerance, peace, mutual respect and co-existence".
Meanwhile, the bail hearing for the 41 suspects allegedly linked to the attack at the church is due to proceed on Monday at the Westonaria Magistrate's Court, after being postponed twice due to Covid-19 issues.
The men face charges of murder, attempted murder and malicious damage to property.
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