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image Nurses sing and dance on their way to deliver a petition in this file picture. They claim they have nothing to do with lobbying for large numbers in church gatherings. (File Pics)

MBABANE – Health care workers are said to have had a hand in the proposal to allow a large number of people during church services.

This is if an assertion by Prime Minister Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini is anything to go by.
The PM, on Wednesday, claimed that the decision to open churches was also motivated by healthcare workers.

He said the health employees had raised how they were weighed down by their work and needed spiritual intervention. This was during the PM’s report to Members of Parliament (MPs) on the partial lockdown, taking into consideration the Variation of Gatherings Directive, 2020 in the House of Assembly. 

The directive stipulated that the maximum number of people who may be part of a religious gathering on a normal day of worship shall not exceed 70.
However, MPs had a field day as they castigated government for taking a decision that did not seem to be in the interest of the masses.

They eventually reversed the decision to 20 people as per the COVID-19 regulations.
The PM, during Wednesday’s sitting, mentioned that the motion stipulated that he should explain the confusion caused when the easing of the partial lockdown was announced by the minister of Home Affairs on the religious sector.


“We should mention that in the Ministry of Health, it has emerged that healthcare workers are complaining that they need to uplift their spirituality. The work overwhelms them and they need churches to open so they can be ministered unto and be counselled,” the PM said.

He said it was important for healthcare workers to be assisted in this regard. He further requested that the MPs should allow for the maximum of 70 people in the churches.

Dlamini explained that the decision for churches not to exceed the capacity of 70 people was taken by Cabinet and the minister of Home Affairs was delegated to collaborate with the three church bodies in the country before reaching the decision. Dlamini added that this was done together with other structures.

He acknowledged the confusion raised by some MPs who consulted Cabinet, out of concern on how it reached this decision. The PM apologised for the confusion and explained that in actual fact, the decision was made as part of easing the partial lockdown.
Dlamini elaborated that it was for this reason that in the report, it was mentioned that the decision focused only on faith-based gatherings. He urged the MPs to tackle and make any variations.

He reiterated that as the House looked into the issue, it should consider that the country needed to start moving towards normalcy because it could not live in this state forever.


“We will be doing this gradually, with the guidance of the Ministry of Health, which will advise us on what to do and what not to do. That is why we urge the House to look into the issue of faith-based gatherings,” he said. Meanwhile, he added that the nation, had also decried the limit of 20 people in funerals. Dlamini stated that people complained that they could not honour their loved ones due to this restriction. He assured the MPs that if they would support the 70 people maximum, it would be ensured that there were strict regulations in churches that would be complied with.  

He further advised the House to not be dismayed when government eased certain regulations and then regressed, as this was the nature of the pandemic. Dlamini requested the MPs to pardon government, as this was behaviour that was observed in most countries. He said one may think that government was confused yet it was the nature of the crisis.


It remains a mystery why the PM did not, however, include the amendment on the churches or gatherings in the COVID -19 (Amendment) Regulations, 2020 that was tabled by the Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku, on Wednesday.
Instead, the amendment only spoke on the compulsory wearing of masks and how the corpse of a COVID-19 positive patient should be handled.

Hosea MP Mduduzi Mabuza first thanked the PM for ensuring that the number of 20 only at gatherings, including churches, was reinstated by government. He said as legislators, they were concerned about the lives of the people. He said this was particularly because there were many denominations, especially Jerichos, who conducted church services in a different manner because there was some form of body contact during their services. He said maybe they would debate the issue when it was the time to amend the regulations on Monday.

He said he was a Christian and asked that pastors should stop provoking them. “They must not turn the church into businesses,” he said.
MP Mabuza said the pastors who were attacking them did not even know what they were talking about.
Meanwhile, Lomahasha MP Ndumiso Masimula said concerning the church issue, there were things which invoked fear.

He said he was happy when Christians met because the church healed the soul and brought life. However, he said the safety of their people was their main concern, not being against God and the church. Masimula said there were three church bodies in the country which needed to come up with lasting solutions to this issue. He said some pastors felt like Parliament wanted to shut down churches yet that was not the case.

He also called for the church bodies to have some sort of permits like businesses, which would regulate them.
Nkwene MP Vulimpompi Nhleko said he welcomed the idea of 70 people in church but as long as there was social distancing. However, his debate was cut short after the break as the Speaker, Petros Mavimbela, announced that the PM had left for another engagement. 

On another note, the MPs noted that the PM had withdrawn the statement he had made, to the effect that this was no time for scoring political points.  Some of the MPs suggested that the debate continue in the presence of the DPM, however, other MPs said they were prepared to wait for the PM as they wanted to debate the response in his presence.

The matter went to vote and 27 of the MPs voted for the debate to continue in the next sitting, which will take place on Monday

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