About 120 hand-picked learners in KwaZulu-Natal have participated in a pilot human rights workshop run by an organisation with direct links to the controversial Church of Scientology — with the backing of the provincial government.
A proposal to have the programme rolled out to the rest of KwaZulu-Natal’s children is awaiting approval from the provincial legislature and the office of Premier Sbu Ndebele.
Last week pupils ranging in age from 12 to 17, including members of the province’s junior parliament, boy scouts and former street children, took part in a three-day youth leadership programme in Durban hosted by Youth for Human Rights International (YHRI) and the children’s desk of the human rights directorate attached to Ndebele’s office.
Ryan Hogarth, president of the Church of Scientology in South Africa, said his church had adopted the YHRI because of its shared values and aims.
Allan Wohrnitz, the youth leadership programme’s coordinator, is also the Church of Scientology’s course supervisor in South Africa. Wohrnitz denied that the workshops were based on Scientology: “The workshops are completely non-religious with an emphasis on morality, a code of conduct and human rights, and how to make human rights a reality,” he said.
“I designed the programme, and I have knowledge in drug rehabilitation, nutrition, morals and human rights. I said €˜I’m going to put it all together and handle the province.'”
Nomusa Kunene, deputy manager of the children’s desk, said this was the third annual summit focusing on children’s issues the desk had hosted. The YMCA had facilitated the previous summits: “We chose YHRI because of this year’s theme: morals and values. They had the content that we wanted,” said Kunene. “This isn’t a religious programme, but a government-run programme … the content was discussed by the premier’s office and [the YHRI] crafted it to our specific needs: the regeneration of morals and values among the youth.”
Kunene added that the premier’s office dictated the terms of the programme after collating information from organisations including the Boy Scouts, the Representative Council of Learners, traditional groups such as Izintombi Izinsizwe and life coach providers Kohin on how they dealt with human rights. “This was put into one document and conveyed to the YHRI,” she said.
Yet traces of Scientology and its founder, pulp sci-fi writer L Ron Hubbard, permeate the course.
Included in worksheets and reading material handed out to children is a Drug-Free Marshals pamphlet which asks kids to “take the pledge” to become marshals. The Drug Free Marshals programme is an outreach campaign started by the Church of Scientology in 1993.
According to Hogarth, 30 000 South African learners have signed up as Drug Free Marshals. Also included in the pack is Hubbard’s guidebook and Scientology’s literary mainstay, The Way to Happiness, which the church uses in its criminal rehabilitation programme, Criminon.
Children interviewed by the Mail & Guardian were also au fait with Scientology terminology. Samukelisiwe Ndlovu, premier of KwaZulu-Natal’s junior parliament and a Grade 12 learner at Pinetown Girls High, said she learnt about “tone scales” during the morals and values component of the training programme. “People at the top of the of the tone scale are alive, can give back to society and do things. People in the middle can do a few things, while people at the bottom are completely dead. They look with a dead face during debates — they don’t want to be active in society,” said Ndlovu.
A “tone scale”, according to the www.scientology.org glossary, “shows the emotional tones of a person. These, ranged from highest to lowest, are, in part, serenity, enthusiasm (as we proceed downward), conservatism, boredom, antagonism, anger, covert hostility, fear, grief, apathy.”
Nomfundo Mkhize, a 16-year-old learner, said the workshops had taught him to “surround myself with peers who all have the same passion to learn and help the community.
“The religious emphasis was on how we should respect other cultures and religions.”
Kunene was unperturbed by the Scientological references. “Maybe [Wohrnitz] added this, but it won’t be important. He won’t be there when we are cascading the programme; the children will drive it.”
Kunene said if the programme was approved, “we would like to hold two or three more summits of this nature so that children go back to their schools and communities and cascade the message of moral regeneration and values”.
“We’re thinking in terms of the 4,4-million children in the province — and by children we mean everybody from birth to 18.”
Wohrnitz, who says he is a “businessman with a social responsibility” who facilitated the workshop free of charge, said the pilot programme was initiated after “I met Dr Nonhlanlha Mkhize [general manager of the human rights directorate in Ndebele’s office] and put it to her. She said €˜We will bring the people to you.'”
He expected feedback on the pilot by the end of the month from the provincial government, before teaming up for the rollout.
Provincial government spokesperson Mandla Msomi said a budget for the rollout had not yet been finalised because the initiative would involve the coordination of several government departments and private sector sponsors.
Attempts to contact Mkhize were unsuccessful.
A Money-making scheme or path to enlightenment?
Scientology’s many critics dismiss it as a wacky cult based on a jumble of science fiction, pop psychology and eastern mysticism, which preys on dysfunctional people.
Newspapers, including The Guardian in the United Kingdom, report that Scientologists base their theories on an alleged event 75-million years ago when the Galactic Federation ruler, Xenu, dropped thousands of human souls into the volcanoes on Hawaii. These disembodied souls exist today and produce warped thoughts among humans, called “engrams”.
There are also accusations that it is an elaborate money-making enterprise. Counselling is conducted by “auditors” from the church at a typical fee of R240 an hour, according to the church’s local president, Ryan Hogarth, who admitted that “detractors of Scientology love to jump on the issue of money; it’s the easiest way to generate controversy”.
Hogarth said that alternatives were free counselling by a student, or two Scientologists twinning up, training themselves and counselling each other, which halved the cost.
In November 2005, the church awarded Tom Cruise the “Diamond Meritorious Award” for donating Â£2-million to it. Last year, after the opening of a Â£24-million centre in London, more than 2 000 diners gathered at the church’s East Essex headquarters and paid between Â£500 and Â£1 500 for a seat at a table, with the more expensive closer to Cruise.
Medals and awards were dished out along with the tucker: a patron of honour medal came with a $10 000 price tag, while a $10-million donation earns a “Patron Laureate” medal.
The Church of Scientology was founded in the 1950s by Lafayette Ron Hubbard, whose Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health is considered seminal to its birth. Hubbard once said: “Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion.”
Scientology now claims to be the world’s fastest growing religion, with about 10-million followers in 156 countries. The South African arm has 15 000 active members and “60 000 people of whom we have record that have had services with the church that may or may not be practising Scientologists”, Hogarth said.
According to scientology.org, human beings comprise a spirit, called “the thetan”; the mind, used by the thetan “as a communication and control system” with the environment; and the body. The most important of these “is the thetan, which is the spirit, or you”.
Scientology’s auditors use a “pastoral counselling device” called an electro-psychometer, or e-meter, to “preclear locate areas of spiritual distress or travail”. Sending about 1,5 volts through the subject’s body, the e-meter registers the “charge”, or harmful energy, generated by a negative memory or mental image.
Says the Practice of Scientology website: “Different needle move-ments have exact meanings, and the skill of an auditor includes an understanding of all meter reactions.
“The preclear discovers things about [the subject] and his life … These … result in a higher degree of awareness and consequently a greater ability to succeed.”
Scientology is recognised as an official religion in the United States, but in France, where anti-cult legislation allows for the dissolution of sects suspected guilty of offences, several cases against Scientologists have been reported. In 1999, five practitioners were found guilty of selling a bogus “purification” drug rehabilitation treatment consisting of sauna sessions, jogging and vitamin pills for up to R30 000.
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