When the Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL) launched an investigation on the commercialisation of religious groups in 2015, it caused quite a stir in religious organisations. This was a beginning of a new dawn, as having religious organisations regulated meant minimizing corruption, i.e. money laundering.
Karl Marx defined religion as “the opiate of the masses.” Just to put into context this phrase – in nineteenth-century Europe, especially among the poor, an opium was a cheap and affordable medicine. Artists found it effective in enticing creativity, whilst for business it generated huge profits. ‘Opium’ was consequently a very ambivalent metaphor to use. Basically Karl Marx meant religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.
If asked, many South Africans today will not shy away to refer to a Marxist definition of religion due to recent events taking place in Mayfair, with the Mosque shootings; the resurrection stunt; the ukuthwalwa of children; and the kidnapping and killings of people with albinism to have them sold to traditional doctors, just to name but a few.
Inequality in our society is huge, and economic growth clearly benefits the minority. With that said, there is very little evidence and study of how sectors of society contribute to the goal of inclusive growth more so, there is very few researches on how religions contribution to economic growth.
An article published by the World Economic Forum in 2015 stated the following “…religion plays both negative and positive roles in relation to inclusive growth. On the one hand, religion-related hostilities, prejudices and biases can lock people out and inhibit inclusive growth. On the other, religious organisations have a tremendous capacity for doing good,” like what Gift of the Givers does.
In 2015 the CRL released a report that they wanted to regulate religious groups, in 2018, a proposal was made that could see religious organisations paying income tax and this would be done through amending the Non-Profit Organisations Act 71 of 1997 which exempts religious organizations from paying tax.
What does this mean for religious organisations?
While many religious leaders may argue that already religious groups are very much involved in poverty alleviation and social welfare, there is no body, papers nor evidence available to attest that religion is contributing to the development of the country, therefore having religious organizations regulated will mean that they are accountable to a body and to the government to play their part in contributing towards a more just society.
 CRL Commission, Preliminary Report of the hearings on Commercialization of Religion and abuse of people’s belief systems
 Marx, K. (1970): Marx’s Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
 See the UN’s sustainable developmental goals: http://www.za.undp.org/content/south_africa/en/home/sustainable-development-goals.html
Can religion make economic growth more fair?
Author: Sagoema Maredi
A Theology graduate, with an Honours Degree in Theology majoring in Old Testament Studies and Hebrew. She now serves as Academic Affairs at Baptist Theological College and is committed ensuring academic excellence and innovation in Institutions of Higher learning.