Religious abuse and cult-like behaviour are some of the descriptions given to a local “religious group”.
The so-called fellowship which operates in Hermanus and Gansbaai is said to have about 40 members and has been active for over 27 years.
The behaviour of the group, and especially its leader Johan Pretorius, has become increasingly controlling, says Dee Pretorius, the leader’s ex wife and a former member of the group.
Dee left the group that she describes as a cult in 2002 and has since moved to the United Kingdom.
Dee says she has undergone extensive therapy and now finally has the courage to speak out. She has approached the Hermanus Police about the group, and is in the process of reporting the group to the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CLR).
In her statement to police Dee describes how the leaders of the group, Pretorius and Jan Harm Kruger, enjoy veneration and deification, and are firmly positioned as the “chosen ones”.
It says: “Mr Pretorius and Mr Kruger practise ‘religious exceptionalism’, and all other Christian church doctrines are preached against, and presented as being false.
“Pastors from other Christian churches are referred to as false prophets. People belonging to another faith are reviled and slandered as being from the devil and hell-bound. They isolate the members of their group from family and friends and break up relationships as ‘unequally yoked’.”
She also doubts whether her former husband is registered as a taxpayer or pays any tax for gifts and donations from the congregation.
It continues: “I was married to Mr Pretorius and suffered the worst form of religious abuse over a span of 13 years, and I finally managed to leave (escape) the cult in 2002 and fled to the UK for fear of being emotionally pursued by Mr Pretorius.
“I have since received counselling and am currently in therapy due to the impact of Mr Pretorius`s abusive and controlling religious behaviour.”
Dee says one of the big concerns about the group is the manner in which women are treated. She explains the leaders of the group are excellent manipulators and rule by means of subterfuge. “They will not directly prohibit something, but will rather preach against similar behaviour,” she says.
This can be seen in how the women of the group are expected to behave. They teach that women must wear head coverings for a woman’s hair is her crown, and has to enter into submission. “The role of the woman is that of total submission [the group teaches],” she says.
Dee explains the hierarchy of the group has Pretorius as the head and “spokesperson for God”. The husbands of the group answer to him and their wives answer to their husbands. She says all the married women indirectly submit to Pretorius, because the men clear marital issues with him. “This patriarchal system is taken to the limit. Johan will often command men to get a grip on their wives, and there has to be consent for everything. Single women work, but married women do not. They wear long dresses, have no piercings and do not wear make-up, jewels or sunglasses. If you wear jewellery, you are part of the Babylonian culture. Women who do not comply are publicly shamed in the congregation and called whores of Babylon.”
Dee calls this religious abuse.
She says her former husband takes passages from the Old Testament and explains it in an “enticing way”.
Dee says another big concern is that it is generally frowned on by the group to use modern medicine and antibiotics. She says there are several instances where some members of the group were ill and discouraged from going to a doctor. One man was bitten by a spider and left alone in his bed while members of the group prayed for him. When he was discovered, a part of his face was paralysed and he was running a fever. “It took him months to recover without any medical intervention.”
Dee says home births are the norm, and women are discouraged from seeking medical interventions. She says she herself delivered several babies in the group, and although not opposed to home births in principal, she says these women are prevented from seeking medical attention, even when it is clear there are complications. “When I had a miscarriage I was told God was punishing me. I could not get medical help. I believed I was evil, not good enough and being punished.”
Dee says Pretorius’ teaching against modern medicine stems from a verse in the Bible that prohibits people from using “Pharmakeia”.
She says he teaches that pharmakeia, which is translated as “witchcraft”, includes all modern medicine and therefore anybody seeking medical attention is relying on witchcraft to be cured.”
Dee says when she started disagreeing with some of the practices of the group, she was often humiliated in Sunday church meetings and called a “Jezebel” and “Whore of Babylon”.
“It was normal practise for members to be humiliated through prophecy and exorcism.”
Dee says group members may marry among themselves, and are denied the use of cellphones and private internet access. She says many families have been torn apart by this group because members are isolated from the rest of society.
She warns people to stay away from the group and now works towards exposing the harm they have done over almost two decades.
Read the response of Johan Pretorius here.
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