Grandiose delusions, rape and abuse: Sex pastor's flock speak

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Grandiose delusions, rape and abuse: Sex pastor's flock speak

Phefo Jonas Pitso’s flock share their stories of the pastor who is accused of sexually abusing young women and forcing people to worship him

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With her mouth wide open, shaking her head and clapping hands in disbelief, Ma Karabo Phatike couldn’t believe her spiritual son had seemingly lost his way.
The 69-year-old Phatike, a faith healer and trainer from Botshabelo, 45 km east of Bloemfontein, had been watching on the news how Phefo Jonas Pitso was whisked away by police when an angry mob gathered outside his Jehovah Shammah International Ministries in Jouberton in North West four weeks ago.
Pitso, 49, is under investigation for 12 charges of rape and sexual assault.This followed allegations that for years he had sexually abused young women, and deceived and forced people to worship him.
It was previously reported that one congregant suffered a heart attack and later died after she was accused of practising witchcraft in the church, while one of his alleged rape victims is said to be HIV-positive.
While Times Select has spoken to more than 20 people claiming to be victims of the pastor’s deception – including a cousin who lives in the Free State – police said they were investigating five cases of alleged rape and seven cases of sexual assault against Pitso. More charges could be added.
Last week, the church did not respond to any of Times Select’s messages. Church spokesperson Joseph Pitso accused the publication of taking sides after it first exposed the bishop last month.Phatike said she felt “ashamed and embarrassed” to even tell people that she trained and guided Pitso through his spiritual calling.
“None of the things he is accused of doing is related to how we help people here at St James Apostolic Church,” said Phatike, who says the Zion Church does not use any muti but prayer and isiwasho (cleansing water) to heal people.
Pitso was brought to her attention in the 1980s after he performed poorly at school. But he showed signs of having a prophetic calling and a gift of healing people, Phatike said. “After his initiation, he was given the name Musitsane (loosely translates as ‘helper’) and he did everything according to the rules of the prophetic church and guidance from the elders.“When he was still with us, his clients were all over the country and we charged only R10. The church later promoted him to a leadership position,” said Phitike.
She now claims Pitso left her and the church after he wanted to have full control over church finances and refused to listen to the elders. “He didn’t like the fact that all the collection money went to our headquarters in Johannesburg and complained that our methods of doing things were old-fashioned. I don’t recall any stories of sexual harassment or rape during the time he was chosen as a leader of our branch here,” said Phitike.
She did, however, once hear that he opened a sangoma initiation school soon after and later became a born again Christian with his own church.The women from the Free State township breathed a sigh of relief when they heard that more women came forward to open cases after his personal assistant broke the silence of how she was used by Pitso to allegedly deceive people.
Some said they were no longer scared and were willing to testify against him in court, should they be called.“This is God answering our prayers. It might have taken years, but he has finally answered them,” said Alice Senuku, whose daughter and a friend who was in the initiation school, were allegedly targeted by Pitso.
Senuku claims she was accused of being jealous of Pitso’s spiritual gift when she tried to report him.
The Free State women, some of whom attended his first church in Botshabelo,  claimed they were initially scared to open cases against him or report them to them.James Moeketsane said he stopped going to the church soon after Pitso introduced a new style of worship in church.“We were now told to pray to the God of TJ Pitso. He would tell us that he is our navigator, our father.  This didn’t sit well with me. Also, males were not allowed to talk to any girl in the church. He claimed that all girls were his.”
North West police spokesperson Colonel Adele Myburgh confirmed police confiscated his computer and cellphone last week, as they believed more evidence could be found on the devices.
Pitso was denied bail this month with the state advocate for sexual offences and community affairs,  Riekie Krause asking the court to give police more time to do their investigation while he remained in custody.
Speaking to the Times Select last week, the chairperson of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission), Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, said this and the Engcobo massacre, in which five police officers and a soldier were gunned down, could have been prevented if parliament had acted swiftly on the report on the regulation of religion and the abuse of people’s beliefs. The report explains why desperate people needing help were so gullible and easily exploited by church leaders.“Through our investigations, we have found that there was a transactional kind of worshipping in some churches. People were led to believe that if they do something for the pastor, then God will either heal their illness or they will get some sort of breakthrough in life.“Some of the things they are told to do are inhumane and dangerous. We cannot do anything until the sector is regulated like any other profession in the country. Until parliament takes action, we will hear more of these stories,” said Mkhwananzi-Xaluva.
She recently said parliament had asked the chapter nine institutions to host a national consultative conference with all the religious leaders and reopen the report again.
At the time, the legislative body said it had no funds to support CRL with the work that needed to be done, but that they should rather ask churches to help raise the R6-million needed to continue with the work.

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