In the Gospel according to Jacob (Zuma, that is, not the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham in the Old Testament) there are a whole lot of us going to Hell for sins against the government. Zuma, who is an “honorary pastor” of the Full Gospel Church, is now a regular commentator on the nexus between politics and religion. He has fascinating insights on how God perceives the African National Congress, its supporters and its critics. As it turns out, religious gatherings are a convenient campaign platform; so expect to hear a lot more political rhetoric at a pulpit near you. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
The ANC was founded in a church in Bloemfontein in 1912 and several of its founding leaders were clergymen. Many of its original values were derived from the church and other religious teachings. Even the ANC anthem Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika (on which the South African national anthem is based) was a hymn composed by a lay preacher Enoch Sontonga.
During the struggle against Apartheid, churches provided refuge to freedom fighters, supplied chaplains to liberation organisations and some religious leaders were at the forefront of the United Democratic Front.
The historical association between the church and the ANC is indeed deeply entrenched over its 101-year existence. Post liberation, the ANC has attempted to embrace all religious faiths and all its major events now commence with interfaith prayers. The party’s leaders, from Nelson Mandela onwards, occasionally attended religious services across faiths as a show of respect and to promote religious tolerance.
In recent years, churches have become powerful campaign platforms and politicians attendance at big religious events translate into passive endorsement for them and their parties. The Zion Christian Church (ZCC) has an estimated six million followers, which is why leaders such as President Jacob Zuma and expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, now leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), have attended the mass gathering of the ZCC at Moria in Limpopo over Easter. Zuma has also visited the four million strong Shembe Nazareth Church, which is a mixture of Zulu tradition and Christianity.
During his court cases and in the run-up to the ANC national conference in Polokwane in 2007, Zuma attended several church services for prayer and blessings to help with his respective battles with the National Prosecuting Authority and against former president Thabo Mbeki for leadership of the ANC. In 2007, Zuma was also ordained as an honorary pastor in the Full Gospel Church. On the election campaign trail to become state president in 2009, Zuma visited numerous churches, including the Rhema Bible Church in Randburg.
As long as the church leaders are consenting, there is obviously nothing wrong with the president and other political leaders visiting and seeking spiritual guidance for the important task of running the country. But for some time now, Zuma’s interpretations and use of religion in electioneering has raised eyebrows and drawn heavy disapproval from religious purists.
Zuma’s initial testament of a celestial link with South Africa’s ruling party was a month before the 2004 elections, when he declared “The ANC will rule until Jesus comes back”. The implication was that the ANC would be in power till the end of time, unchallenged and untroubled by any earthly political rivals.
Again on the campaign trail in 2008, Zuma expanded on the statement, this time in an effort to save the Western Cape from again falling into unblessed hands. Speaking at an ANC rally in Khayelitsha, Zuma said: “We shall build this organisation. Even God expects us to rule this country because we are the only organisation which was blessed by pastors when it was formed. It is even blessed in Heaven. That is why we will rule until Jesus comes back. We should not allow anyone to govern our city (Cape Town) when we are ruling the country.”
There are obviously too many non-believers in the Western Cape as it remained firmly in the Democratic Alliance’s hands.
It seemed that criticism for invoking God’s name for electioneering only encouraged Zuma to ramp up the sermons and parables. Campaigning in the Eastern Cape in the run up to the 2011 local government elections, Zuma said:
“When you vote for the ANC, you are also choosing to go to Heaven. When you don’t vote for the ANC you should know that you are choosing that man who carries a fork… who cooks people.
“When you are carrying an ANC membership card, you are blessed. When you get up there, there are different cards used but when you have an ANC card, you will be let through to go to Heaven.
“When (Jesus) fetches us we will find (those in the beyond) wearing black, green and gold. The holy ones belong to the ANC.”
He got wild applause then, but a few months later Zuma had to apologise to the SA Council of Churches for “misusing” Jesus’ name on the campaign trail.
By the end of 2011, the president had either a change of heart or a revelation of sorts as he blamed religion, particularly Christianity, for the loss of humanity in society. He said the arrival of Christianity brought problems for Africans.
“As Africans, long before the arrival of religion and [the] gospel, we had our own ways of doing things. Those were times that the religious people refer to as dark days but we know that, during those times, there were no orphans or old-age homes. Christianity has brought along these things,” Zuma said.
Christianity was back en vogue this weekend, and God was shining brightly on the government. Addressing the 33rd Presbyterian Synod in Giyani, Limpopo, on Sunday, Zuma said those who insult leaders in positions of authority would be cursed. Zuma was quoted by The Star as saying: “If you don’t respect those in leadership, if you don’t respect authority then you are bordering on a curse.”
“Whether we like it or not, God has made a connection between the government and the church. That’s why he says you, as a church, should pray for it,” Zuma said, urging the church to pray for politicians who insult leaders.
Zuma has invoked religion very effectively to make political points and vow eternal damnation on his opponents. He has also found receptive audiences at church gatherings and religious leaders who quite enjoy the prestige and attention of the president coming to visit. Zuma obviously has no qualms about misinterpreting scripture and invoking God’s name in vain, as long as there are crowds to lap it up.
In the coming months in the build up to the 2014 elections, there will obviously be lots more sermons on the mounts and laying of hands, not only with Zuma as the anointed one but many other political leaders desperate for spiritual guidance, endorsement and support from the faithful. Malema has already ventured beyond the borders for his spiritual enrichment when he led the EFF’s “central command team” on a visit to the Synagogue SCOAN Church of All Nation International of the great Prophet of God T B Joshua in Nigeria.
It might be indulging in the “opiate of the masses” or “drinking from the well of living water”, but making election promises is so much easier if it comes sanctioned by God.
Like the Lord, politicians work in mysterious ways. DM
Photo: Forgive us, Michelangelo, for we have sinned.
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