Ruben Kruger, a veteran of 36 tests in the green and gold, returned after a week in Nigeria and declared that a Pentecostal preacher he called the Prophet had healed his brain cancer. Temitope Balogun “TB” Joshua prayed for him in the Synagogue Church of All Nations compound while thousands of people sang, danced and wailed, Kruger said. As Joshua bent over him and implored the demon to be gone from his body, Kruger felt the tumour leaving him. He was cured, Joshua declared, handing him oil to rub on his head.
“I no longer have to drink my chemo pills,” Kruger said on his return. “You cannot describe the feeling to anyone who has not experienced it. It was an unbelievable – or should I say believable – experience.”
The floodgates opened and the Prophet’s newest converts were white, mostly Afrikaans and relatively conservative. They swopped the NG and Hervormde churches for a Nigerian “turn-or-burn” approach to redemption. It took me some time to understand why the Afrikaner psyche found Joshua so irresistible. Why were they prepared to seek salvation in a country they perceived to be drowning in greed, political rot and economic decay?
Christianity Nigerian-style was worlds apart from the chains and shackles of Calvinism. Joshua unchained them. He allowed them to worship with a gusto and fervour previously thought unseemly.
That the new messiah was black and his church in Africa’s biggest and maddest metropolis only added to the allure. A year or two after Kruger returned from Lagos, I made the same journey. On the plane was another Springbok rugby player, 25-year-old lock Wium Basson, who was dying of liver cancer. He was accompanied by his mother, Cloeté Geldenhuys, and had to get special permission from SAA to make the journey.
I was making a TV documentary and my challenge to Joshua was straightforward: allow me to film how you heal Basson. If you succeed, I promise I will show it to the world. When we arrived at Joshua’s compound, the TV team and I were in effect incarcerated. For two weeks, we were forbidden to leave the grounds.
We were told we could not drink or smoke, and had to attend services and events with the pilgrims. While I stayed in a dormitory with other pilgrims, Wium and Cloeté set up camp in a private room. The church took away the young man’s morphine and pain pills. During our first interview, a softly spoken, affable Joshua said it would be easy to heal Wium because he had nothing but a “little sore” on his liver.
At Sunday sermons, the afflicted lined up with placards stating what condition they needed healed.There were lines of people seeking a cure for HIV/Aids, cancer and heart conditions, business failures, wandering spouses and dull brains.
A festive, almost joyous atmosphere filled the compound as churchgoers sang, clapped and danced. Evil spirits were cast out and those set free by the Prophet writhed in the dirt while vomiting out the demons. Joshua prayed for every person in the line and declared them all healed. He ordered them to stop using any medication and trust in God.
Among the pilgrims was Capetonian John Rindel, who was suffering from full-blown Aids and already had dementia. He had arrived at the church several weeks before we did, was prayed for by Joshua and declared completely healed. He had stopped taking his medicine and showed remarkable improvement.
Scientists refer to this as the “placebo effect” of faith healing. A patient can experience genuine pain relief and other symptomatic alleviation after being prayed for.The relief is short-lived and the patient soon returns to his original condition.
The internet is filled with reports from organisations like the American Cancer Society and the British Medical Journal that found no evidence faith healing can cure physical ailments.
On my request, Rindel agreed to go for two independent HIV/Aids tests when he returned to South Africa. Both showed he was still positive. He died a short while later.
The BBC recently investigated the London branch of the church and reported that three women had died after being “healed” and told to stop taking their HIV/Aids medication. I challenged the pilgrims to provide me with medical proof that they had been healed. None did. Ruben Kruger died in 2010 just before his 40th birthday.
And Wium Basson?
Joshua never prayed for him. He said God had not sent him a message to do so.The young man left the church broken, disillusioned and at death’s door. He died a few days after returning to South Africa.Before I left the church, Joshua handed me, and the camera and sound people, thick envelopes full of hundred dollar notes. He wanted to be sure we’d produce a positive programme.
We gave the envelopes back.A year or so after the programme aired – and generated a massive response from people who called us accusing Joshua of all sorts of misdeeds – the preacher produced a video of a 76-year-old South African man named Moses he said he’d brought back from the dead. Moses was among a group of South African pilgrims in Lagos when he had a heart attack in the dining room.
Videos distributed around the world showed three pilgrims, one a doctor from Bloemfontein, trying to resuscitate Moses.They failed, the videos reported, and Moses was carried into another room. Joshua walked in, bent over him and commanded: “In the name of Jesus, rise!”
Moses opened his eyes. It later emerged that Moses had been both alive and breathing when he was carried from the dining hall. He’d been resuscitated, not resurrected, and clever editing created a fake miracle. I understand the despair of terminally ill people and why they grasp at final straws. My father died of lung cancer and might well have made the journey to Lagos.
I am just glad he is not here any more to become a victim of a ravenous tick that feasts on the blood of the ignorant, gullible and desperate.