Lethebo Rabalgo, otherwise known as the Prophet of Doom on social media, now faces an onslaught of criticism for spraying pesticides on members of his congregation – an act he says will heal diseases.
Rabalgo, head of a church called Mount Zion Assembly in South Africa’s Limpopo province, first drew attention when he posted photos of him spraying a woman in the face with a pesticide called Doom. Calling himself a “prophet detective,” Rabalgo said Doom would cure the woman of her ulcer, the Los Angeles Times reports.
But he’s not the only pastor in the country to employ unorthodox religious practices. Penuel Mnguni, the Snake Pastor in the province of Mpumalanga, lets his congregants eat live snakes and rats to heal illnesses. Lesego Daniel, self-styled as the Storm Rider, tells his congregants in Pretoria to consume gasoline to heal themselves.
Thousands of these small churches thrive in South Africa – small, informal structures whose pastors create so-called miracles by engineering healing, jobs, exorcising demons and so on, authorities say. There is no exact number on how many churches exist, as there is no South African registry or regulation for churches.
Church services often begin early in the morning and end late at night. Aside from tithes and offerings, some pastors also sell sermon DVDs, souvenir items and things like “healing” waters and oils. The money often goes to their personal accounts, according to the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, or CRL Rights Commission.
The CRL Right Commission expressed outrage at Rabalgo’s use of pesticides.
Tiger Brands, the manufacturer of the chemical, warned of its dangers when sprayed on people, and have told Rabalgo to stop.
Other South Africans have left comments on the church’s Facebook page expressing their condemnation and disgust.
Rabalgo informed local media that it was God who had instructed him to use Doom to heal his followers, claiming that spraying has healed many people. He also denied making money from his supposed miracles, saying they were a “gift of God.”
The CRL Rights Commission is unable to act on the practice, as the pastor’s congregants willingly participated in the rituals. But the commission has held public hearings this year on the issue of exploiting congregants and commercializing religion, and has sent a report to the government.
The report said, “We heard of many examples where: People are expected to pay substantial amounts of money before blessings and prayers could be said over them; blessed water and oils are sold to congregants at a high marked-up price; access to the spiritual leader or traditional healer is only guaranteed by payment of a fixed amount of money; T-shirts, towels, and Vaseline are sold to congregants for good luck.”
It recommended that pastors be licensed and a peer review body formed to curb the growing number of profiteering pastors and the proliferations of rituals that violate human rights and ethics.