South Africa’s National Police Commissioner General Khehla Sithole, above, has confirmed that no fewer than 100 sex slaves, among them girls as young as 12, were freed after police were involved in a gun battle at the Mancoba Seven Angels Ministry Church on Friday.
According to this report, the incident occurred after five police officers and a soldier were killed in a shooting at the police station in the tiny Eastern Cape town of Ngcobo last Tuesday.
The assailants – reportedly members of the Seven Angels Ministry – were believed to have taken refuge in the church, which had been branded a cult and should have been shut down when investigators initially raised concerned about it two years ago.
It has emerged that the cult – run by seven brothers named Mancoba and their mother – was well known to the state. Authorities had warned it was a disaster waiting to happen.
Three of the seven Mancoba brothers suspected of involvement in the murders of the officers were killed during the shoot-out. In total seven cult members were were shot dead and ten arrested.
Sithole said that “indoctrinated and brainwashed” girls and young women were taken to social workers for counselling. He added:
In this church it is forbidden to have identity documents. Children are not allowed to have birth certificates and they are not allowed to attend school.
Chairperson of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, above, said she interviewed the cult leaders in 2016 during her investigation into church practices and made the parliamentary committee aware of her “serious concerns”.
Everyone [at the cult] was sitting waiting for Jesus to come. We told Parliament that this was a high risk and these people need urgent attention.
This has been a ticking time bomb. We said either these people are going to commit suicide or something else will happen. We questioned the sanity of church leaders, who saw themselves as angels sent by God.
The Eastern Cape social development department knew about the cult. Spokesperson Mzukisi Solani said officials went there in 2016 and rescued 18 children. They were taken to places of safety after the department obtained a court order. After the raid, they alerted the Commission to the cult.
On Saturday morning, reporters watched as police escorted the girls and small babies to a waiting police vehicle. Some of the children looked terrified. Others appeared to resist the officers’ attempts to rescue them. Onlookers applauded as the bodies of the seven suspects were taken from the cult’s property and loaded into mortuary vans.
The girls were kept in about ten corrugated iron shacks. Inside, mattresses lined the floor and clothes hung from wires or were dumped on the beds.
A high-ranking police officer said that the cult, in the centre of Nyanga village, was established by a Mr Mancoba, who died in 2015.
Mancoba’s seven sons refused to follow their father’s successor. The “seven angels” and their mother subsequently became the leaders of the cult.
The officer added:
The guys, known as angels, drive very expensive cars, but do not work. They are well known here in Ngcobo. There are people here in this town who go to that church. People would give up all their pensions and donate them to the church.
Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said cult members were required to sell their cars, houses and other belongings and give the proceeds to the cult’s leaders.
Speaking outside the Ngcobo police station Police Minister Fikile Mbalula promised the cult would be closed once police had completed their investigation.
Mbalula criticised police for not shutting down the cult earlier after local residents reported suspicious activities.
An angry Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said:
No one listened to us. This could have been avoided. We told them we cannot have a sector that is not regulated.
Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said the Commission could not close the cult because it had no power to do so without an amendment to the CRL Act, which they asked Parliament for last year.
Instead of acting on her report, Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said Parliament’s committee instructed them to organise a national consultative conference with churches to discuss self-regulation, which they had no budget to do.
Democratic Alliance MP Kevin Mileham, who opposed regulation in the Parliamentary committee, said regulation would not have stopped the tragedy.
The CRL wanted to amend the act to allow for the regulation of religion. The argument we heard from various people is that this was going a step too far and that it was not the function of the state to regulate religion.
People may have funny beliefs, but as soon as someone acts in a criminal manner, then action must be taken against them for that behaviour. Our Constitution makes provision for freedom of religion.