GAUTENG, SOUTH AFRICA- Klip River, which is suspected to be the source of the cholera outbreak, is believed to be clean and safe by churchgoers taking part in baptism ceremonies.
Health officials in Gauteng are appealing to faith-based organisations not to expose their members to cholera by conducting baptisms in unsafe environments.
In Gauteng, 11 cholera cases have been confirmed and one person has died. The people involved in four recent confirmed cases had participated in river baptism ceremonies.
As Easter weekend approaches, TimesLIVE searched for places where believers gathered for baptism. A catchment of the KlipRiver in Ennerdale saw believers driving into a bushy area to wait their turn for cleansing, rituals, or collecting water.
A white-clad Bishop Bongile Ndlotseni washed his face and dipped himself in a stream on Thursday morning while others prayed around him.
“We are preparing to cleanse our body and spirit because we believe that we must go into Passover with the right mind and body. We want to start Easter holy. Baptism is important to us as we also do it throughout the year. “
“Of course, we are concerned about cholera but we can’t test the water, all we can do is believe that the water is clean. As long as it looks a bit cleaner. The unfortunate part is that we still have to continue with our belief,” said Ndlotseni.
In 15 years of membership, he said, he has never had a problem with river baptisms.
“We come from different places across Gauteng.” said Ndlotseni.
A 50-year-old woman from Diepsloot is one of the cases. As the pastor who baptized the couple who tested positive at JukskeiRiver for Diepsloot, she also drank the same water as the couple did.
Located near Alexandra’s Jukskei river is a small rocky hill where rituals are performed. In this location, Zion believers hold baptisms and rituals on a weekly basis, according to locals.
A woman at Emmaus Apostolic Zion in Alexandra, however, said they would not be conducting baptisms over Easter.
“Our celebrations will start on Friday and end on Sunday. We will be congregating at a hall around Alex. We do baptise during the year, and not on Good Friday. We do it at Jukskei river in Lombardy,” she said.
“Although the laboratory results of the samples taken from the rivers concerned came back negative of the cholera strain, the risk of contracting this disease is still high for people who conduct their religious ceremonies in rivers and dams,” said Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehokom, Gauteng MEC for health and wellness.
Churches that baptize in contaminated rivers bring shame to the faith, according to Rev Joseph Letsholo from the St Johns Apostolic Faith Mission in Alexandra.
“Our church is hygienic, there’s a protocol we follow. We have swimming pools at our headquarters in Germiston, we don’t go to rivers … It’s terrible. Sometimes the men in those churches are the ones handling naked women for baptism, we don’t do that.”
“We are concerned about these churches of people sitting under trees in the bushes, but if the government is not doing anything what can we say? The way they do things makes them look bogus. We have different beliefs, that’s why we’ve had other churches spraying people with doom in their faces.” said Letsholo.
Public health officials urge the public to seek treatment for mild to severe diarrhoea and dehydration when experiencing mild to severe symptoms.