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The Church of Scientology is running courses for learners on behalf of the KZN premier’s office
About 120 hand-picked learners in KwaZulu-Natal have participated in a pilot human rights workshop run by an organisation with direct links to the controversial Church of Scientology — with the backing of the provincial government.
A proposal to have the programme rolled out to the rest of KwaZuluNatal’s children is awaiting approval from the provincial legislature and the office of Premier Sbu Ndebele.
Last week pupils ranging in age from 12 to 17, including members of the province’s junior parliament, boy scouts and former street children, took part in a three-day youth leadership programme in Durban hosted by Youth for Human Rights International (YHRI) and the children’s desk of the human rights directorate attached to Ndebele’s office.
Ryan Hogarth, president of the Church of Scientology in South Africa, said his church had adopted the YHRI because of its shared values and aims.
Allan Wohrnitz, the youth leadership programme’s coordinator, is also the Church of Scientology’s course supervisor in South Africa. Wohrnitz denied that the workshops were based on Scientology: “The workshops are completely non-religious with an emphasis on morality, a code of conduct and human rights, and how to make human rights a reality,” he said.
“I designed the programme, and I have knowledge in drug rehabilitation, nutrition, morals and human rights. I said ‘I’m going to put it all together and handle the province.’”
Nomusa Kunene, deputy manager of the children’s desk, said this was the third annual summit focusing on children’s issues the desk had hosted. The YMCA had facilitated the previous summits: “We chose YHRI because of this year’s theme: morals and values. They had the content that we wanted,” said Kunene. “This isn’t a religious programme, but a government-run programme ... the content was discussed by the premier’s office and [the YHRI] crafted it to our specific needs: the regeneration of morals and values among the youth.”
Kunene added that the premier’s office dictated the terms of the programme after collating information from organisations including the Boy Scouts, the Representative Council of Learners, traditional groups such as Izintombi Izinsizwe and life coach providers Kohin on how they dealt with human rights. “This was put into one document and conveyed to the YHRI,” she said.
Yet traces of Scientology and its founder, pulp sci-fi writer L Ron Hubbard, permeate the course.
Included in worksheets and reading material handed out to children is a Drug-Free Marshals pamphlet which asks kids to “take the pledge” to become marshals. The Drug Free Marshals programme is an outreach campaign started by the Church of Scientology in 1993.
According to Hogarth, 30 000 South African learners have signed up as Drug Free Marshals. Also included in the pack is Hubbard’s guidebook and Scientology’s literary mainstay, The Way to Happiness, which the church uses in its criminal rehabilitation programme, Criminon.
Children interviewed by the Mail & Guardian were also au fait with Scientology terminology. Samukelisiwe Ndlovu, premier of KwaZulu-Natal’s junior parliament and a Grade 12 learner at Pinetown Girls High, said she learnt about “tone scales” during the morals and values component of the training programme. “People at the top of the of the tone scale are alive, can give back to society and do things. People in the middle can do a few things, while people at the bottom are completely dead. They look with a dead face during debates — they don’t want to be active in society,” said Ndlovu.
A “tone scale”, according to the www.scientology.org glossary, “shows the emotional tones of a person. These, ranged from highest to lowest, are, in part, serenity, enthusiasm (as we proceed downward), conservatism, boredom, antagonism, anger, covert hostility, fear, grief, apathy.”
Nomfundo Mkhize, a 16-year-old learner, said the workshops had taught him to “surround myself with peers who all have the same passion to learn and help the community.
“The religious emphasis was on how we should respect other cultures and religions.”
Kunene was unperturbed by the Scientological references. “Maybe [Wohrnitz] added this, but it won’t be important. He won’t be there when we are cascading the programme; the children will drive it.”
Kunene said if the programme was approved, “we would like to hold two or three more summits of this nature so that children go back to their schools and communities and cascade the message of moral regeneration and values”.
“We’re thinking in terms of the 4,4-million children in the province — and by children we mean everybody from birth to 18.”
Wohrnitz, who says he is a “businessman with a social responsibility” who facilitated the workshop free of charge, said the pilot programme was initiated after “I met Dr Nonhlanlha Mkhize [general manager of the human rights directorate in Ndebele’s office] and put it to her. She said ‘We will bring the people to you.’”
He expected feedback on the pilot by the end of the month from the provincial government, before teaming up for the rollout.
Provincial government spokesperson Mandla Msomi said a budget for the rollout had not yet been finalised because the initiative would involve the coordination of several government departments and private sector sponsors.
Attempts to contact Mkhize were unsuccessful.