Warning for churches and congregants in South Africa this Easter weekend

 ·29 Mar 2024

The Spiritual Crime Prevention Forum has warned churches across South Africa to increase security as criminals see them as ‘soft targets’ while churchgoers are urged to be vigilant, especially over Easter.

As the Easter weekend approaches, churches are preparing for large congregations, and religious leaders are being advised to prioritise the safety of their members and themselves.

This is according to Reverend Cyril Pillay from the Chatsworth Spiritual Crime Prevention Forum, who told eNCA that criminals are still targeting religious gatherings to rob members of their valuables.

Robbers attend services posing as worshippers before pulling out firearms and robbing congregants of their cellphones and wallets.

Churches are easy targets because attendees are focused on worshipping, view the buildings as sacrosanct, and often tithe in cash.

Despite the sacredness of holy ground, criminals have shown a complete disregard for it by committing criminal acts.

The first warning of these criminal activities was flagged at the end of last year when as many as 1,500 churches gathered and met with the Gauteng community safety MEC Faith Mazibuko over the alarming trend.

Churches reported a rise in criminal where phones and money have been robbed from congregants – with some cases ending in assault, kidnapping and murder.

However, the cases seem to have continued into 2024, with Pillay noting the recent killings of a caretaker in Phoenix and Catholic Priest William Banda during robberies that took place a couple of weeks ago have unsettled church-going communities.

Pillay strongly urged church leaders to take proactive measures to protect congregants from crime. “Don’t be so heavenly-minded that you have no earthly good,” he warned.

He noted that adequate security measures include turning to private security and CCTV setups, as well as encouraging churchgoers to leave their cellphones and purses/wallets at home when attending services.

While it appears as if churches are being specifically targeted, the rise in incidents is reflective of the worsening crime conditions in communities generally in South Africa.

The latest crime statistics for South Africa, covering the third quarter of the 2023/24 administrative year (October to December 2023), show that despite a dip in reported crimes generally, the number of violent crimes in South Africa – including assault, murder and attempted murder – have continued to rise.

Assault with the intent to inflict grievous bodily (5.8%), common assault (0.4%), common robbery (3.9%) and robbery with aggravating circumstances (6.6%) all increased.

Overall, contact crime (crimes against the person) increased by 3.8% compared to the prior period.

Read: Flying vs driving from Joburg to Cape Town or Durban this Easter – the cheapest option right now

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