Around eight months ago ‘Pope’ Tsietsi Makiti, above, launched a church intended to be a haven for boozers.
We are a church for those who have been rejected by other churches because they drink alcohol. Gabola Church is established to redeem the people who are rejected, who are regarded as sinners. We drink for deliverance. We are drinking for the Holy Ghost to come into us.
But Archbishop Modiri Patrick Shole, director of the South African Union Council of Independent Churches, expressed horror.
Gabola has nothing to do with the word of God. Those are not church services. They are using the Bible to promote taverns and drinking liquor. It is blasphemous. It is heresy and totally against the doctrines.
He said his organisation intends to see that authorities close Gabola for breaking municipal regulations that say churches should not be located near bars.
The condemnation by Shole and other Christian organisations did not bother the 30 worshipers attending a recent Gabola service, held in a bar in the sprawling Orange Farm township 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Johannesburg.
A pool table served as the altar, adorned with bottles of whiskey and beer. Six ministers at the altar solemnly blessed the chilled jumbo bottles of beer bought by most churchgoers. A few drank whiskey, brandy or other beverages, all of them similarly blessed. The congregation sang hymns praising the positive effects of drinking.
Three new Gabola members were baptised with beer sprinkled on their forheads. And a newly invested priest is given a double tot of whisky.
Gabola means “drinking” in Tswana, one of South Africa’s official languages.
Our aim is to convert bars, taverns and shebeens into churches. And we convert the tavern-owners into pastors.
People in other churches say they are holy but they drink by the back doors, in secret. They think God does not see them. But the Lord zooms in on them and can see them. We drink openly at our services. We do so in peace and we love each other.
Gabola’s leader said he encourages people to drink responsibly and emphasises that alcohol will only be sold and blessed to people who are 20, two years older than South Africa’s legal drinking age.
The rousing hymns praising the effects of alcohol brought church members to their feet and they enthusiastically stomped and danced in a circle, often around a beer bottle. As the three-hour service progressed they became louder, more animated and sloppier. Some dozed off during the sermon.
Said Nigel Lehasa, who explained scripture during the service and described himself as Gabola’s professor:
Nothing is as happy in the world as people who drink. There is no fighting, no arguing. We have nothing but love.
About 80 percent of South Africa’s 56 million people profess to be Christian. In addition to Catholic and Protestant denominations, there are small independent ones with unusual practices like handling snakes. One pastor recently was found guilty of assault for spraying Doom, a popular insecticide, into worshipers’ faces, which was supposed to chase away evil spirits.