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.”
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.
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.