Johannesburg -- A church on the East Rand has apparently been keeping people in shackles on church grounds for the past couple of years "to drive their demons out".
Although the Gauteng Association for Mental Health has been investigating this alleged "inhuman" situation for the past three months, the seven people, who might be mentally ill, have still not been freed from their chains.
Police spokesperson superintendent Eugene Opperman said police were investigating these allegations. "We will decide what to do as soon as we have enough information."
Some of the people have allegedly been held for years at the St John's Apostolic Faith Mission in Etwatwa, a township outside Benoni.
Pastor Paul Mabothe, a representative of the church, said it was necessary to keep the people in shackles "for their own safety".
"These people do funny things. They could run around and damage themselves or church property," Mabothe said.
He claimed these people had been possessed by "demons". "There is no scientific way to exorcise a demon. We do it through prayer and holy water. It normally takes between six and 18 months to heal a person."
These people may not leave the church grounds and sleep in shacks on the premises. They are given food and water "but we are overcrowded and need money to care for them properly," Mabothe said.
Ruth Rensburg, spokesperson for the Gauteng Association for Mental Health, described the circumstances as inhuman. "They are not prisoners or criminals. They should not be treated this way."
Kevin Lancastar, the association's manager, said people often have the misconception that mentally ill people are possessed by demons. "Prayer has it place in healing, but if people need medical and psychiatric help, a church may not keep them from it."
The association has filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission (HRC). Jody Kollapecn, HRC chairperson, said the commission is investigating the allegations and is in the process of finding a solution.
Meanwhile, the association is trying to convince the church to release the people. "However, the people are still in chains," Rensburg said.