Someone had to try. The Economic Freedom Fighters are about to cause President Jacob Zuma one of the great embarrassments of his career, perhaps at the expense of a desperate public. Rhema's Pastor Ray McCauley has tried to intervene, but this journey's been on a collision course far too long to stop now. By GREG NICOLSON.
An online ticker counts down to the next service at the Rhema Bible Church.
If it’s the same as the last time I visited the Randburg institution, the Sunday night session will begin with a band. Worshippers will file into the 5,000-seat auditorium as ersatz-alternative-looking-musicians with just the right amount of emo repeat the beginning of a song, delicately strumming, drumming and tapping the keyboard, inviting you to surrender to lyrics of devotion and raise your hands at the point where your pain, the church, God, your hopes and fear meet the music.
The crescendo will come with the high-pitched electric guitar ringing, a hint of life’s chaotic intensity. The drummer will start racing until everyone on stage is giving their all and rock’s embrace of the hopeless, carefree and wild finds a home in the lyrics of the Lord.
The EFF ticker counts down to the State of the Nation Address (SONA) protest.
As the intensity builds, can Rhema’s Pastor Ray McCauley turn the chaos of the country’s divergent politics into a harmony between Julius Malema and the ANC? Will the pastor, somehow, find the point where the egos, ambitions, threats and struggles meet, where South Africa’s interest in allowing SONA to go ahead merge with getting President Jacob Zuma to acknowledge wrongdoing and concerns on Nkandla?
On Tuesday, McCauley, also head of the National Interfaith Council, told Daily Maverick he was over 95 percent sure a truce to avoid a stand-off could be reached. It started in December, said the pastor. After he wrote a column, he was contacted by a politician who asked religious leaders to intervene. Since then, he has met opposition parties and leaders of the EFF four times. Even on Tuesday, he was engaging the parties in meetings.
Since its “pay back the money” stunt derailed questions to the president in August last year, the EFF has been adamant that Zuma must tell the country when he will refund the state for the money spent on the Nkandla upgrades, as recommended by the Public Protector, before SONA. That hasn’t happened and Julius Malema has committed his party to interrupting Zuma’s speech before he gets started.
A SONA interruption or protest would be unprecedented. It will hit while the president and his party are already under pressure: during load-shedding, another rise in violent public protest, a fall in the ANC vote in key areas, public institutions reportedly in crisis, slow economic growth, ongoing high unemployment rates, and stories of crime that if you’re lucky enough not to be a victim, make you want to slit your wrists.
Enter the church. Cue the band.
McCauley wanted to intervene because the world will be watching and shouldn’t see chaos in South Africa’s Parliament (Malema might differ). But the red berets are willing to reason. The pastor said the EFF would not to disrupt Zuma’s speech if certain conditions were met. “Basically, one of their major things is to drop the charges [for EFF’s August outburst in Parliament]. I think there are one or two other things. One is a little bit sensitive at the moment because I’m still trying right now, speaking to them as well on the basis of trying to resolve it.
“I think we are about – over 95 percent there. I thought we were there. That’s all I can say.”
There’s been criticism as to why the Rhema leader is involved, with the obvious references to Zuma’s visit to the church. McCauley admitted religious leaders need to get more involved in South African issues but referenced the clergy’s involvement in the fight against Apartheid.
“We are facilitators. I’m not a politician. I don’t want to be a politician and I’m not involved in politics but I remember 30 years ago where we got involved, when I got involved… that stood out against Apartheid and some people said, ‘Why are you getting involved in politics?’ and I said, ‘No, it’s not a political issue, it’s a moral issue.’ So I think we need to be a moral compass somewhere on the basis of what goes on in the country.”
This issue surely isn’t as serious as Apartheid, which McCauley seemed to acknowledge.
Nevertheless, he’s on the matter, and hoped that by Tuesday evening there would be something concrete. “It’s in the balance right now.”
Looking at the rift between the parties, the pastor said, “There’s not really any dialogue at the moment. There’s no communication between them and I think that could be the start of something that could really help, if they sat down and spoke and dialogued about some of these issues and talked about it in a room somewhere rather than publicly or openly.”
But this issue starts with Nkandla. Has McCauley also used his association with Zuma to be the “moral compass” on that issue? On Tuesday, the pastor said the issue was a sticking point for opposition parties, before, finally, he expressed his own opinion: the president needs to acknowledge wrongdoing, “My advice to him would be that he needs to do that.”
But will Zuma do such? Will the EFF believe that he might? The answer seems to be no and McCauley got his concrete answer on Tuesday afternoon.
The EFF said in a press release that while it engaged in the religious leaders’ mediation and believe the conditions were agreed to by Speaker Baleka Mbete, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who failed last year in attempts to hold a truce between warring parties in Parliament, and “tentatively” the presidency, it was vetoed by the ANC. “The officials of the ANC later turned the agreement facilitated by the religious leaders, adopting an arrogant attitude which they adopted after the peace accord that was facilitated by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa,” said spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi.
“The ANC officials have once again opted for a tyranny of the majoritarian approach and arrogance with the religious leaders and undermined all what they had done to bring about common agreements and engagements in Parliament. The EFF appreciates the work done by religious leaders, and proclaims for all to know that the genuine discussions and agreements we held with them were undermined by Gwede Mantashe controlled officials of the ANC.”
Ndlozi was clear: “The EFF will ask questions to Zuma during the SONA because Zuma has not been coming to Parliament and we do not believe that Zuma will come to be held accountable in Parliament.” The ANC has been quiet on the matter, but on Sunday Zuma said if there’s a protest he would follow the Speaker’s rule.
Later, on Talk 702, Malema said, “On Thursday we are going to ask Zuma questions which he couldn’t answer in the last two terms of Parliament because he disappeared and never reported for duty.” He said the EFF wouldn’t comply with Parliamentary convention that questions can’t be asked during SONA, which Mbete has said will guide her in how she handles any outbursts.
Unless McCauley divines a miracle, this song won’t end in harmony. The crescendo builds towards discord and the agitators, fighting for their own gain or for the betterment of the country, are too invested to back down now.
While the Rhema clock counts down to the next service, the EFF timer ticks away the seconds until Parliamentary officers have to deal with one of the most embarrassing moments in Zuma’s career. DM
Photo: Pastor Ray McCauley. (Reuters)