Book explores exploding trend of pastor-preneurship across SA

TITLE: God's Servants or Money Grubbers?

AUTHOR: Thabile Mange


REVIEWER: Tumo Mokone

In this book, social activist and commentator Mange adds his voice to a topic that has caught the attention of the nation - that of self-styled pastors and prophets who are in it for the money.

In fact, the book comes out at a time when the misbehaviour of some of these "men of God" has reached outrageous levels of absurdity, if not straight out sinfulness.

The author relies on newspaper articles pointing to unsavoury activities of the pastors to build his case against the "grubbers".

Mange indicates how the quest for wealth by proponents of prosperity theology can also lead to splits and open warfare between rivals.

Using Sowetan reports from back in 2013, he cites the case of two pastors who happened to have been a married couple at the time. Pastor Azwihangwisi Nemavhoni and his wife Margaret co-founded a "ministry" in Venda. But for the love of power or money - or both - Margaret broke away to lead a ministry preaching about money.

While the SA Council of Churches, representing established mainstream churches, naturally criticised her as a scammer, the husband's backing of this notion is surprising.

In another case taken from a recent Sowetan report, a Limpopo pastor grabbed R49000 meant for college fees because the young student who "donated' it was driven by the "vision of God".

Wealth-amassing church leaders have gotten away with all sorts of antics to solicit money from overwhelmed followers without fearing for consequences because the law in SA is loose on these issues, Mange points out, as many cases end with the pronouncement that people voluntarily give to the pastors. Another loophole promoting the growing wealth of pastors is lack of taxation, despite churches making vast amounts selling all sorts of merchandise, including water.

Interestingly, last month the South African Revenue Service (SARS) announced its decision to investigate churches for possible tax noncompliance.

The SARS initiative is informed by a report on the commercialisation of churches in SA by the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL). The CRL, which did most of its work last year, concluded that religion was big business in SA.

Mange does well to give a brief history on the origins of "prosperity gospel" in the US and its spread over the world, and how it found "fertile ground" in post-apartheid SA, "partly because the poor have lost hope in the political system".

Mange's book is a short, easy read loaded with reference information. The only criticism I have is that in many cases where he raises his objection according to what the Bible says, he does not quote the scriptures he used to back up his argument.