The government announced that religious gatherings would be allowed under the level three lockdown regulations. These gatherings would have to be limited to 50 people and congregants must ensure they follow good hygiene practices such as wearing a mask and maintaining social distance. We asked our diarists how they felt about these new regulations.
Opening up religious spaces is a bad idea
Ash from Delft explained that ‘Its going to be a mess, that’s all I can tell you. Many people are going to get the virus because no one is written “I have the virus” on the forehead!’. Thando from Khayelitsha agreed that ‘it’s a recipe for disaster’..
‘Yho that is a mess the President practically just said the lockdown will be over…This will have a negative effect on the black race because we are the people who are so addicted to the “church”. I am scared.’ – Ayanda, Khayelitsha
‘We are being killed here because it is clear everything is allowed it is alcohol, churches, schools, traditional healers, parties and there are young boys who still need to go through initiation school. What do we say when everything is being permitted. Words beyond death. Enkosi’. – Sam, Khayelitsha
High risk to older people
There were a range of reasons diarists are unhappy about religious spaces opening. Most are concerned that the virus will spread among worshipers. Nathi, from Imizamo Yethu is concerned that ‘older people are likely to get infected by the virus, coz their immune system is very easy. So children coming from church will infect the older people.‘ Anonymous from Hangberg agrees that ‘at churches they might catch the virus and that’s how they infect others I mean when they go back to their homes that’s how people get infected.’
‘I feel so bad because our grandmothers like going to church and they are in a very risk to get infected easily so this is not a good idea to open up the church’. – Nosiphiwo, Khayelitsha
‘I am very disturbed and worried…As a Muslim woman it’s not necessary for us to go to mosque but for the men it’s different. Being around other people, not knowing who they have been around or if the May have the virus. Not everyone shows symptoms immediately’. – Bushrah, Woodstock
How do you maintain ‘social distance’?
Many diarists were concerned that you cannot enforce social distancing or the wearing of masks in spaces such as churches. Nathi’s explains that ‘in religious gathering people must sing and shake hands and do lots of talking, so my question is that how will people be able to sing in church, without spreading the virus to each other’. Andile from Khayelitsha agrees that ‘not everyone will feel comfortable wearing a mask at church while singing and dancing and sweating…There will be hugging, shaking of hands, putting hands on people when praying for people, some pastors do that and no one will know they have the virus’. He is also concerned that ‘there’s no way that only 50 people will enter the church place, who will want to praise and worship outside the church while 50 other people are inside? Disaster waiting to happen’. This issue was recognised by several diarists who worried that choosing between worshippers would cause division.
‘That’s another problem that will increase the spread of the virus because of the beliefs in our churches. For instance the Wesley Church can have strict rules for social distancing, say two people per seat, now, how does one control congregants in other churches like Zion and ZCC who operate in a different way?’ – Nonceba, Khayelitsha
A handful of diarists had mixed feelings about the opening of religious spaces. They saw the concerns, but also the benefits. Nessie from Elsies River explains that whilst she doesn’t regularly go to church she understands that ‘faith is important for a lot of people right now with how uncertain things are‘. That said, she was concerned that people would ‘take advantage’ of the new regulations. Warren, from Hangberg is happy that ‘religious institutions and gatherings is allowed‘ but explained that his family would ‘do our religious worshipping at home as Hout Bay was classed one of the hotspots’.
Others had concerns but noted that there were other ways in which contagion was likely to occur.
‘You touch more things in a isle on the shelves of your supermarket than you would do in a isle at your church…at churches you at least can de-mark places to sit for social distancing but supermarkets you can’t’ – Scott, Salt River
‘I mean what difference does it makes because the schools are going to be opened too… I guess in the end we do need to Worship God and praise him’. – Kungo Shukushukuma
Follow the rules and its OK
A sizeable minority of diarists were happy that religious spaces could reopen. Many voiced the caveat that they must be properly regulated. Esethu from Khayelitsha didn’t see a problems so long as ‘they will follow the regulation of the lockdown. Churches or Mosque must also take the responsibility to supply PPEs to their congregation for safety‘. One of our diarists who is a pastor is felt that, ‘it’s good news to go back to the pulpit. We just need to make sure that all measurements are in place to keep our congregations safe’. Natalie in Newlands believes that, ‘as long as people stick very strictly to the guidelines, it should be fine for young healthy people’.
‘I think people should be allowed religious gatherings, given they take the necessary precautions. I feel that if people are further denied the right to practice their religion as their religious group has deemed appropriate it’d amount to injustice’. – Riyaaz, Primrose Park
‘I really welcome the idea coz what we really need is for faith to play its part’. – Fadwa, Hangberg
A number of diarists pointed out that religion plays an important pyschological and social role, and thus the benefit of opening spaces in significant. Samkelo from Imizamo Yethu argues that ‘religious community are also ment to be essential as they provide public with moral support all over the world‘.
‘I think we have neglected the psychological and emotional part of this lockdown. And for some people, many of them places of worship is where they get their emotional happiness. And some places of worship even offer psychological assistance to assist their congregants, so in helping people in these fears, I think it is important for us to allow them, under strict regulations though’. Papama, Khayelitsha
‘For a lot of people they are places where people can find solace from their stress’. – Helen, CBD
The rules are not consistent
Whether they supported the opening of religious spaces or not, many diarists felt that government regulations governing life during lockdown were inconsistent.
‘I feel there’s a disconnect between the restrictions that are being placed on us. On the one hand, my kids haven’t been allowed to visit their grandparents since mid-March and are not allowed to go to school, and then on the other hand we’re being told we’re going to be allowed to go to church on Sundays?! It doesn’t make sense’. – Judy, Newlands
Gift, from Imizamo Yethu wants to know why, if religious spaces can open, why can’t restaurants as, ‘they create jobs for people rather taking money from them, and church is more like the same as social gathering parties’. Lwando also from Imizamo Yethu feel that if churches are open, ‘You might as well let soccer players or other sporting codes back…Soccer only has 22 players on the field‘.
Several also pointed out that people many have different understandings of what is spiritual or religious to them, and this has not been taken into account. Sparrow in Newlands explains, ‘people have different practices and religion to some might be group therapy or a dance class to others so if you are going to open up gatherings then it should be across the board’.
‘…And those who want to have religious gatherings in their houses do they need a permit to host a church? And who gets the permit to host a church or attend church?… What about African gatherings? Ceremonies? Aren’t they just as important? African cultures are a necessity for Africans just as much as religion for religious groups and organisation. This will undermine the cultures of Africans who will be allowed to go to church or mosque but be deprived the right to perform their cultural rituals, customs and ceremonies that accompany those rituals and customs’. – Khaya, Khayelitsha.’.
Would greater transparency around the decision to open religious spaces rather than other social spaces help to build trust and consensus amongst citizens?
Will churches, mosques and other religious spaces be able to maintain social distancing and other health protocols?
What responsibilities, if any, does the government have when allowing spaces to open to actively help them meet these criteria?
Will the broad definition of ‘religious gathering’ create issues for the policing of lockdown regulations?