South Africa's Pesticide Pastor Condemned by Church Groups

South Africa church
The retired South African archbishop Desmond Tutu celebrates mass to mark his 85th birthday, October 7, St. George's Cathedral, Cape Town. South African churches have condemned a pastor who sprayed his congregants with insecticide. RODGER BOSCH/AFP/Getty

South African churches have condemned the practices of a self-styled pastor who has allegedly sprayed his followers with a harmful insecticide.

Lethebo Rabalago, a self-proclaimed prophet at the Mount Zion General Assembly (MZGA) in the Limpopo province, northeast South Africa, has used a pesticide called Doom in purported healing services. Photos posted to the MZGA Facebook page show Rabalago spraying the product in the face of several people, as well as on other parts of the body.

##live update## Sunday Service With Prophet(Detective) LetheboMrs MitalaThe Prophet called sick people to come...

Posted by MZGA on Sunday, November 20, 2016

The South African Council of Churches, an umbrella body representing 36 churches and religious organizations, criticized the pastor's practices in an emailed statement on Thursday.

"There is rampant abuse of the religiosity of poor communities by unscrupulous Dooms day prophets that emerge either as poison practitioners or money-sucking extortionists, who prey on the faith of the desperate and the ignorant," said the statement.

Limpopo is one of the poorest provinces in South Africa, with an average GDP per capita of around 50,000 rand ($3,500) per year.

Rabalago told South African television network eNCA that he used Doom to heal people with cancer, HIV and other illnesses. "God can do anything, God can use anything. If God can use oil, God can use water, God can use anything," said Rabalago. He claimed that congregants were not charged for the service but declined to say whether they paid tithes.

Another Christian group that claims to represent 99 denominations and churches, Freedom of Religion South Africa, issued a statement on Tuesday repudiating Rabalago for his actions. "While we believe that the Bible teaches that the Lord Jesus Christ healed people of all manner of diseases and ailments...He always did so in a way that protected their dignity as human beings made in the image of God," said the statement.

The company that produces Doom, Tiger Brands, also spoke out on the issue on Monday, describing the practice as "alarming and extremely concerning." "Doom has been formulated to kill specific insects...Using this product for purposes other than what it is intended for poses health risks and is therefore dangerous," said the company's statement.

South Africa's Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL, a constitutionally-mandated institution, encouraged people affected by the practice to report their experiences to the commission.

Unconventional religious practices have been reported elsewhere in South Africa. Lesego Daniel, a self-styled prophet of Rabboni Ministries, previously instructed members of his congregation to drink petrol, while another self-declared pastor, Penuel Mnguni of End Times Disciples Ministries, has been pictured feeding his congregants snakes after claiming they had been turned to chocolate, the BBC reported.