Johannesburg – A North Rand church has been holding eight people in chains as it believes they are possessed by demons.
Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo of the Human Rights Commission said a preliminary investigation into a complaint against the St John Apostolic Faith Mission Church in Etwatwa, Daveyton, had been opened.
She said once the investigation was complete the HRC would make recommendations as to what actions should be taken.
The eight would remain with the church until the investigation was completed.
“At this stage, I think it would be safe to say that investigations point clearly to concerns around violations of human dignity.”
McClain-Nhlapo said the rights of the mentally ill remained underdeveloped and they were often treated in a barbaric fashion.
“A biblical interpretation was given for them being chained, but I don’t think keeping people in chains can be justified in this day and age. It’s unacceptable.
‘Depends on church co-operation’
“The supreme law of this country is the constitution. This is the legal framework under which we operate. The rights of the mentally ill are protected under the constitution.”
She could not say how long it would be before the investigation was completed.
“It depends to some degree on the level of co-operation we receive from the church.
“Rest assured, we will address this matter as soon as possible. We recognise the urgency of the matter… it is of great concern to us.”
The police have also launched an investigation into the matter.
Superintendent Eugene Opperman said the results of the investigation would be handed to the national prosecuting authority for a decision on whether anyone should be criminally charged.
North Rand Area Commissioner Joel Mokwena said the church had gone too far.
“It appears as if the church had no right to treat these human beings the way they did.
“They overstepped their mandate and entered into areas of expertise in which they had no knowledge or experience,” he said.
The Central Gauteng Mental Health Society (CGMHS) reported the church to the HRC after it discovered the church’s healing methods included chains and shackles.
CGMHS director Karuna Singh said the situation had been revealed when some of the eight visited a clinic in Daveyton a few weeks ago.
Being held against their will
“Social workers saw the marks on their ankles that were made by the chains and asked them about it. When the church was approached it said that this was their policy… that it was a healing process.”
Singh said that when questioned by social workers the eight emphasised they were being held against their will.
“But, when we met with the church two weeks ago they brought someone with them who said he had been chained and this had healed him.”
The situation was a sensitive one and the CGMHS wanted to work with all stakeholders to educate communities about mental illness, she said.
[keywork: St John Apostolic Faith Mission]