by Marelise Van der Merwe
As article after article is published about Nigerian Pastor T.B. Joshua in the wake of his tragic church building collapse, the bigotry and bias unashamedly displayed by the South African media have finally compelled me to react.
I must confess I don’t often attempt to order my eclectic myriad of ruminations into words, especially on such a sensitive, sorrowful issue. As a patriotic South African, I am still trying to come to terms with the tragic incident that veiled our country in a cloak of sadness this week. My heart bleeds for those who lost loved ones in the church collapse in Lagos, Nigeria that sent 84 salvation-seeking South Africans to an early grave. May their souls rest in perfect, permanent peace.
At this juncture, I don’t want to attempt to proffer reasons as to the cause of this tragic incident; let’s leave professional investigators to their job. My concern is the prejudiced media reports circulating within the public sphere, myopic headlines such as ‘TB Joshua: Profile of an accomplished performer’ incensing a barrage of vitriolic comments online.
Let me elaborate at this point that I have undertaken a ‘spiritual pilgrimage’ to The SCOAN on one occasion back in June 2013, a decision I certainly don’t regret despite my initial cynicism. The visit, albeit unusual, was spiritually enriching and I can attest to the constructive changes my life has seen since.
Before going further, please drop the stereotypical connotation that I am one of those ‘T.B. Joshua fanatics’ who offer ill-conceived rebuttals toward the slightest hint of criticism against ‘my pastor’. I am not here to ascribe undue praise to any man or adopt the ‘sheepish mentality’ that has sadly led many would-be Christians today into elevating their pastors to an unhealthy ‘godlike’ status. However, putting my personal convictions aside, the reports being circulated by our media do not accurately reflect the ministry of Pastor T.B. Joshua.
Let me cite just a couple of examples. Painting the picture of a ‘flamboyant millionaire’ who is ‘milking the masses’, multiple reports highlight Joshua’s alleged wealth, citing a Forbes article which stated he is the third richest pastor in Nigeria. How many media houses, however, reported his immediate denunciation of this report, requesting his name to be removed from the rich list? “There is not enough to keep for tomorrow. As it comes, we give it for the needy,” he said in response.
On that note, have any media house highlighted Joshua’s extensive humanitarian endeavours? The same Forbes article being quoted calls Joshua Nigeria’s most philanthropic pastor, claiming he has given “over $20 million to causes in education, healthcare and rehabilitation programs” – a fact our journalists ‘conveniently’ left out in their write-ups. Indeed, I have never once heard T.B. Joshua campaigning for money or scrolling bank details across Emmanuel TV in the name of ‘fund-raising’, a nauseating practice that distanced me from most of his evangelical counterparts.
Another popular article which was widely read stating this incident was the fourth building to have collapsed at SCOAN is nothing but malicious misrepresentation. A look at Joshua’s intriguing documentary, ‘This Is My Story’ reveals the said ‘buildings’ were barely formed structures that were destroyed by the elements over 15 years ago when his ministry was at a very primitive stage. The mention of such on The SCOAN website serves as an encouragement for people to never give up despite the ‘storms of life’. Comparisons with the tragic incident last Friday are cruelly misplaced, probably to create an impression of insecurity or lack of safety.
The media are repeatedly referring to an incident that happened over a decade ago when Springbok rugby player Wim Basson sadly perished even after visiting SCOAN. Yes, that’s true but what about those who have received healing through T.B. Joshua’s prayers? Why is it that such positive aspects of Joshua’s ministry have been surreptitiously excluded in the majority of news?
After all, what drives the faithful droves to take the long journey to SCOAN week-in week-out, ignoring the threats of ‘Boko Haram’ and Ebola, if not for their firmly held convictions? Are the media insinuating that these thousands of South African pilgrims are mentally incapacitated or under some cryptic delusion? Also, how many of those making judgmental statements behind the comfort of their computer screens have met the man, heard him speak or partaken in one of his services? I have.
Yes, T.B. Joshua is controversial, unconventional and unpredictable but that is no reason for the media to add needless sensationalism to a story that is already tragic enough. This is not a time to debate Joshua’s authenticity but to mourn with our brothers and sisters whose lives were lost.
Marelise Van der Merwe is a social analyst based in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.