Labour and Home Affairs minister, Edwin Batshu, has vowed that if the South African pastor who commands members of his flock to eat grass comes to Botswana, he would not be allowed to repeat such antics.
“As leaders, we have a duty to protect the nation and we will not sit idly by and allow him to do that here,” says Batshu, adding that the government would be counting upon on members of the public and the media to tip off authorities in the event the pastor visits and orders church members to eat grass.
The pastor, a South African Motswana, has apparently visited Botswana before and conducted a far-from-tame church service in Gaborone North. No grass-eating has been reported but Daniel is supposed to have slapped and kicked around some those who attended the service. This is part of the course at this church.
Personally, the minister says that he was horrified to see the dramatic images of believers, down on all fours and ravenously devouring mouthfuls of grass in the name of religion. He adds that his ministry is “following up” the matter to get answers to questions that many more people are still asking themselves about the way this South African does religion.
The pastor in question is Lesego Daniel of Rabboni Centre Ministries in Ga-Rankuwa, in the Gauteng Province, who has declared himself to be an unconventional miracle-maker in the mould of Jesus Christ. What is outside convention at Rabboni is that Daniel commands members to eat grass with the assurance that cultivating such outlandish herbivorous appetite not only brings them closer to God but also poses no risk to life and limb.
One YouTube video is a sight to behold. Microphone in hand and urgency in his voice, Daniel is importuning church members to clear off a patch of luxuriant green grass that they are also sprawled on.“Eat quickly! Eat quickly! Today no time, no time. Eat quickly!” he is heard shouting over loudspeakers.In addition to scripture-backed enticement, the pastor whets the congregants’ appetite by raving about the succulence of the grass, dreamily comparing it to a variety of delicious food and claiming to have eaten some himself.
From the pews, the congregation (which in the language style of charismatic churches call him “Man of God”) roars back in approval. The adspeak in the video is so masterful that in future when the Water Utilities Corporation has lifted the current water rationing and gardens spring back to life, some of those who watch it may begin to look at their neighbour’s lawn grass with completely new eyes.
Daniel (whose Hebrew name means “God is my judge”) has also incorporated penal-code-grade physical assault into his (bully?) pulpit repertoire. In another video, he executes a basic street-fight kick on a girl lying prone on the floor, digging into her ribs with the shiny toe-cap of a designer shoe. Seconds later, he bends down to deliver a series of vertical body blows with his right hand. What some would found even more disturbing is that when the teenage-looking girl gets back up to her feet, she is smiling from ear to ear in unmistakable joy.
This acquiescence is going to present an even bigger challenge for authorities.
Batshu is well aware of the fact that Daniel doesn’t coerce his flock to add grass to their sacrament menu. However, his advice is that if one’s faith reaches a point where, as part of worship, s/he has to comply with a command “to eat grass like a cow”, then such person needs to seriously re-examine their relationship with God. Batshu is himself a Christian, a member of Spiritual Healing Church, and says that he cannot relate grass-eating to any aspect of established Christian liturgy.
Regarding the assault, the minister (a former police commissioner) speaks generally about its commission being a criminal offence. He adds that, as Botswana law prescribes, anyone who engages in violence would be arrested, charged and tried in a court of law.
However, the effectiveness of what the Botswana government may do would be limited by the fact that the pastor can conduct grass-eating church services in his own country with absolutely no hindrance from authorities. This raises the possibility of his Batswana followers just crossing the border to be able to eat grass to their hearts’ content. Under such circumstances, a bilateral effort would seem helpful but Batshu says that he has not discussed the issue with his South African counterpart.
In one very important dimension, this form of religion is also a human security issue. The lesson from history is that in some very rare instances, a tiny minority of pastors like Daniel, have been spectacularly successful in implementing religion-based mind-control programmes, have also pushed the envelope in very tragic ways. In 1978, an American pastor called Jim Jones talked 909 of his followers into drinking cyanide-laced Kool-Aid in a mass cult murder-suicide act that had been rehearsed numerous times before. If it is any sort of consolation, it was from this tragedy that American English gained the saying “drink the Kool-Aid”, to denote sheepishly going along with a dangerous idea.
Some 300 children were among those who literally drank the Kool-Aid. By the unusually tough standards of cult sophistry, Jones would accuse straight male congregants of being homosexual and when they denied, rape them in front of others to prove his point. In another cult murder/suicide incident that happened in Uganda in 2000, some 1000 members of a doomsday cult perished in a house fire that was deliberately set by the leaders because the world was supposed to be ending anyway.
To the question of whether he sees any potential parallels between these two incidents and the grass-eating, Batshu responds by saying that the issues are different and at this point in time, the government’s immediate concern “is to do something about what we saw on TV and in newspapers.” The ministry of Labour and Home Affairs is responsible for all matters relating to religion.