A South African church has been exposed for severely beating gay men and then charging them a “damages fee” for shaming the church.
The Shembe Nazareth (eBuhleni) church in Pietermaritzburg denies the allegations of physical violence, but admits it has been charging the “shame fee.”
“The rule is that anyone that goes against church principles pays the damage fee,” church spokesperson Thokozani Mncwabe told the South African Times.
Church member Dumisani Ngcobo says he was beaten by the preacher, forced to pay the fee, and suspended from the church. He alleges that approximately 50 men have suffered the same fate – with most of them attacked inside the church building.
Ngcobo says that during an annual church retreat to Ekhenana Mountain, he was sleeping in a tent with several other men when he lost his phone. He says he accidently touched another man while searching for his phone.
“He was sleeping next to me. While I searched for my phone I touched him. I had no bad intentions but I couldn’t find the phone. Accidently I touched him and he assumed I was playing naughty,” he said.
Ngcobo says he was calling in front of the church’s minister and elders to face the accusation that he is gay.
“The preacher had warned me that if I didn’t plead guilty he would kill me. I did admit I touched him. I was saving my life. I said I touched him intentionally.”
“After that I was called into a room. The preacher told me to take off my church robe. I lay down on a straw mat. He took a huge stick and started beating me. I was beaten from the head to the legs. He went on until I was helpless. I was numb and I was bleeding from head to toe. He told me to leave and never look back.”
Church spokesman Mncwabe said it would be “unacceptable” for gay men to be beaten inside the church, but Ngcobo isn’t the only man confirming the attacks. Ngcobo’s family also confirmed that he was severely beaten.
“They used sticks. We were taken into hospitals close to homes. My family knows but they are silencing everything. They are scared of shaming the church. But we have been silent enough about this. Being gay does not mean we are not humans,” the man, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Times.
“We were shocked when he arrived home. He was severely bleeding from the head. My aunt had to take care of the wounds and the bleeding,” Ngcobo’s brother told the newspaper.
“If my brother is gay, they should have dealt with that like a church. The South African Constitution supports gay men. They have rights like any of us. Beating a person because of his sexuality is a crime.“