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South Africa – where Rio’s ex Mayor Crivella may be ambassador – is key for Brazil’s Universal Church

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God began its expansion across the African continent through Angola in 1992, but it was in South Africa that it grew most in number of temples and worshippers.

Established in the country since 1993, when the apartheid regime (separation between whites and blacks) was still in force, The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God currently has over 300 units spread across the country’s 9 provinces.

Former Rio de Janeiro Mayor Marcelo Crivella. (Photo internet reproduction)

According to Universal’s international expansion project conceived by its founder, Bishop Edir Macedo, South Africa was so important that he sent his nephew, then Bishop Marcelo Crivella, to run the venture. Based in South Africa in the 1990s, he traveled to some 20 countries in the continent to open branches of the religious mega-institution and fulfill his uncle’s plan.

Crivella may now return to the country where he lived for over 7 years, became a kind of gospel celebrity (one of his singing career’s most famous songs is called Africa), and earned a master’s degree in engineering from the University of Pretoria. He is said to have been nominated by Jair Bolsonaro to be Brazil’s ambassador to South Africa, according to information published by the Correio Braziliense newspaper on Sunday, June 6. The request is confidential and needs the approval of the South African authorities.

The appointment comes at a time when Universal is facing one of the worst crises in its history on the African continent. A dissident wing of bishops and pastors in Angola severed ties with Edir Macedo and took over some 200 churches in the country. The Brazilian group attempted to repossess the temples in court, but failed. In addition, it now has suffered deportation proceedings and investigations for currency evasion, money laundering, discrimination and imposition of vasectomy on pastors. Worryingly, the same complaints have also begun to surface in São Tomé and Príncipe and in Mozambique.

The crisis in Angola, which has only intensified after the court defeats, has triggered a conflict in Brazil between Edir Macedo and President Jair Bolsonaro – the bishop has always been one of Bolsonaro’s main allies in the evangelical voter segment, but the relationship between the two began to be strained with the Angolan case. Leaders linked to Macedo began to publicly criticize the Foreign Ministry’s timid handling of the Angolan battle and fear that the uprising against Universal will spread to 30 other countries on the continent where the institution is present.

Although Angola and South Africa are separated by over 2,000 kilometers (by air), one of the most serious accusations made by Angolan pastors is that part of the money collected in the country’s churches was taken by car to South Africa and sent to Brazil from there. Edir Macedo’s church has denied all accusations and says it has been a victim of persecution and fraud by former institution leaders, who were expelled for moral misconduct and would have taken over the temples by means of a “coup.”

Crivella’s nomination to the embassy would be not only a strategy to reduce Bolsonaro’s friction with Universal, but also a consolation prize for the ex-mayor of Rio de Janeiro, who, despite the president’s support, was defeated by Eduardo Paes in his bid for reelection in 2020.

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