Cape Flats preachers have found a thriving market for fire and brimstone, writes Lin Sampson.
Preachers, prophets and pastors have become the new rock stars. They drive swanky cars and live in lush circumstance. The Cape Flats on a Sunday morning rocks with the sounds of hallelujahs.
Pastor Abraham of the Restoration Church of Christ runs his services from a large tent. With his pointy beard and bloodshot eyes he looks like a wizard. He is wearing a platinum-coloured Lurex suit and everything about him shines. He could be plugged into a wall socket, so bright is the light he throws and so energetic are his caperings.
He has a thesaurus of gestures, a voice that rises and falls and a rollout laugh that becomes a hysterical scream, whoohooo.
Against a stage banked with artificial flowers he works the audience, whipping people into a frenzy.
“I have had direct communication with God,” he shouts. “In the name of Christ Jesus, close your eyes, and know that the Lord anoints those who give. God loves a giver.
“Only a man anointed and appointed by God has a divine strategy. I am such a man. I have instructions from God to tell you to give.”
Money piles up on the stage. “No, not 50 cents, not change,” he scoffs. “God does not like change, God wants notes. I am looking for notes.” He jumps about, shuffling people into lines according to how much they can give. “R100 stand over here, R200 up on the stage.”
“Father,” he bellows, “I am only following your instructions. The only way to come out from where you are, you vermin, you non-believers, you sinners, is to give to God.
“Those who are sitting down, not giving, I see you. I know who you are. God knows who you are. The ones who cannot give. They must know that they are in the spirit of witchcraft. If they give I will release them in the name of Je-sus.”
He commands the non-givers to come to the stage where he harangues them in a mixture of Xhosa and English. They bow their heads in shame. Mrs Pastor, dressed in polony pink, a large woman in layers of frills and floating panels who looks as if she is off to a garden party at Buckingham Palace, grabs the mike and screams her endorsement as her stilettoes sink into the sand: “The more you give, the more God loves you. Hallelujah.”
NOW we are in The Church of the Wounded Christ. Pastor Mndai steps out of his dark blue Maserati. He is wearing a scarlet suit trimmed with black. The label Zara Man is sewn on to the sleeve.
The tent leans against the sky, swollen with people, its plastic faux windows hanging dejectedly and its canvas doors flapping in the wind.
Prophet Mndai’s particular speciality is saving people from devil worship and satanism, while waging a war on democracy. “Democracy is demon-based, like this government ,” he says, wiping his face with a blue cloth.
“In the Kingdom of God not everyone is the same. Unlike democracy where everyone is allowed to do what they like even if it doesn’t please God. Je–sus .”
He has an oil painting of a girl who is bewitched. A snake entwines her body and she is followed by a Maserati, a Jaguar and a Mercedes.
“You see those cars. They are cars of the church and they are saving the girl. They are covered with fire. That means the presence of the Lord. It is the witches that are causing the accidents on the road, but if your car is covered with fire you are safe.”
Another picture shows the Lion of Judah crossing the Jordan River in a tractor.
“They are taking the news of Christ in a Caterpillar tractor. If you believe in Jesus, you will get a Caterpillar and that means you have power.”
The prophet says there are demons everywhere. They are under the sea and under the ground. There is even a picture of a calabash that was doing the devil’s work.
“The one who is owning this calabash was asked to prepare red meat for it and then she was instructed to have sex with it. Very amazing.”
Prophet Mndai was called to be a prophet at the age of 16. He runs large assemblies in the Eastern Cape and has now taken his pitch of end times and demon-related testimonies to Cape Town.
A girl says she was filled with demons and had a frog in her stomach until she joined his congregation. A man strips off his shirt and springs around the stage. “I was a drug addict, a murderer and a rapist. Now I am in the light of Jesus,” he shouts.
The small working-class suburb of Delft, burdened with crime and poverty, resembles a medieval camp with groups of tents, each one holding a church service. In the space of 1km there are seven tents. The richer the congregation, the better the tent. Many are grubby and sagging and sway in the wind.
God is a growth industry on the Cape Flats. Prophet Soga of God’s Will Ministries started six months ago with eight congregants and now has 80, and has “brought seven devil-worshippers to the Lord Jesus Christ”. The competition is fierce: “That one’s a false prophet ,” is a phrase frequently repeated.
The sonorous sound of church bells has been replaced by the hectoring rant of self-proclaimed pastors and prophets. The place is filled with Armageddon merchants, speaking a new “Christianese”, who use pitchfork and torch tactics and instill fear with words of fire and brimstone.
It seems that God runs through the geology of the poor of South Africa.
“You know what,” said a woman who had twirled firecrackers in her curls, “I am on speed-dial to our Lord Jesus Christ.”
First published in the SUNDAY TIMES newspaper on 23 November, 2014.