Lockdown: SA churches put faith in President Cyril Ramaphosa for financial relief

Lockdown: SA churches put faith in President Cyril Ramaphosa for financial relief

The
South African Council of Churches (SACC) has asked for financial relief from
government for member churches that have felt the pinch of the national
Covid-19 lockdown, as well as UIF for those in their employ.

The
SACC made this plea to President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday during a meeting
also attended by Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Health Minister Zweli Mkhize.

The
SACC has also motivated that places of worship open under Level 3 of the
lockdown under strict guidelines, including physical distancing.

Ramaphosa
is expected to address the nation on Sunday evening.

The
SACC made a presentation to Ramaphosa on a policy framework for churches to
self-regulate during lockdown.

Speaking
to News24, SACC general secretary Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana said the income of
some churches had been seriously affected because of the effect the lockdown
had on church members’ income.

“We
had to present a case for churches because churches have to pay rates and taxes
and there is no income. We hope the minister of local government will pick up
on that one. We have the issue of banks that are expecting us to pay our bonds
as churches for properties that we have bought [on behalf of] the church,”
the bishop told News24.

“We
don’t have the money at this time. We are making a case to share in the relief
fund, and some kind of relief for those churches with people in their employ,
they can go to UIF (Unemployment Insurance Fund) for this relief.”

Surviving from people’s generosity

He
added that some churches were surviving due to the generosity of South
Africans. In some instances, the clergy contributed from their earnings, he
told News24.

“The
financial repercussions for different churches have been varied,” he said,
adding that some have felt a slight decline in their monthly budget,” he
said.

“While
for others, Covid-19 has a devastating impact on the finances of the church.
Many churches, as do business and other sectors of society, have bailed
financially. With congregations no longer gathering during the Covid-19
pandemic, and some of the church members dealing with lost jobs or reduced
working hours, the church feels the financial impact. The main source of the
church’s income are contributions from members.

“Without
Sunday offerings, congregations are feeling the financial strain from being
closed, except for some individuals who bank electronically. This is
particularly difficult to address where the online church operates on very thin
margins,” Mpumlwana said.

To
mitigate the financial losses, the SACC has also suggested that church members
conduct tithing through virtual services via SnapScan or EFT, as well as the
use of reserves and electronic transfers for operational expenses.

Cost-saving measures

The
SACC has also called on churches to suspend all capital expenditure activities
and to consider cost-saving measures, with faith-based leaders forfeiting
travel allowances and additional income.

“Even
with online [contributions], the church operates on very thin margins and
denominations report cash flow difficulties. Congregations sometimes cannot
meet their obligations to central church bodies, some of which report that they
already cannot meet their financial responsibilities,” the SACC said in
its documents.

“Our
unequal society means there is huge food insecurity. The church by virtue of
its presence in every community is well placed to assist with this.

“We
should consider a direct partnership with the state. This should be carefully
done so that both we and the state can properly account for money spent. We
could also become centres for the collection and distribution of food under
strict conditions to guarantee the safety of volunteers.”

The
SACC said churches would follow the same rules which guide funerals.

“We
have done enough to indicate the capacity of the churches to self-regulate.
During Covid-19 we need to be a source of support for a society. We need to be
the fair pillars that deal with the specifics of how you organise your local
congregation to be of value to society and taking care of their needs,” he
said.

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