Archive for the ‘Christianity’ Category

Cursed if we criticise Zuma? Think again

October 8, 2013

Cursed if we criticise Zuma? Think again

Cursed if we criticise Zuma? Think again


President Jacob Zuma’s reading of the Bible misses an important point: we are allowed to criticise his decisions whether he likes it or not.

It’s election season, so that means it’s time for President Jacob Zuma to do his rounds of churches and make inflammatory statements, usually to the delight of the nearest journalist.

It’s no secret our president and the dominant body in the ANC at present have strong conservative leanings, often at odds with the liberal-minded founders of our Constitution.

A church context often gives Zuma the opportunity to indulge in these leanings. Whether it’s strictly biblical or not is usually besides the point: it’s a chance for Zuma to speak to an audience who resonate with his traditional, conservative values that often put him at odds with more liberal parts of our society who find favour with our Constitution – even if they are in the minority.

It’s this tension that has seen our president make homophobic statements in the past and then quickly apologise, or admit archaic views of women and their role in marriage. Throw in a church context and the charismatic style of speaking at these venues often lead Zuma to deviate from his usually bland prepared speeches and make outlandish statements, such as his notorious claim that the ANC would rule until Jesus came, or that those who vote for the opposition were effectively friends with the devil.

This last Sunday brought us more of the same. Zuma was at the 33rd Presbyterian Synod in Giyani, Limpopo, where he told the congregants that those who insulted leaders in position of authority would possibly be cursed.

“If you don’t respect those in leadership, if you don’t respect authority then you are bordering on a curse,” said Zuma.

“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.”

The headlines started writing themselves.

“Zuma invokes wrath of God”

“Zuma: Criticise me and be cursed”

“Insult Zuma and face God’s wrath”

But the fact was that Zuma was indeed quoting from the Bible this time, albeit a selective reading that works well for him.

The apostle Paul made the point in one of his most famous letters: Romans, in the New Testament. In chapter 13 verses one to seven, he does indeed encourage a respect for government authorities.

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established,” he begins. The verses also point out that the state can use force to ensure compliance with the law, so it was in the audience’s interest to obey the law of the land, pay taxes and so on – not just “because of possible punishment but also because of conscience”.

Needless to say it can be a difficult scripture if taken to its logical conclusion. I have heard Zimbabwean Christians in particularly struggling with verse two, which speaks most directly to what Zuma was saying. In it, Paul says that “all authority” has been established by God and thus “he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted”.

The implications of this verse for dictatorial regimes are a discussion for another time, but for a democracy like ours it’s pretty clear.

So within the context Zuma was showing, for once, that he does “read the right stuff”, contrary to Richard Calland’s criticism.

However, reading it in balance with the Constitution, which the scripture itself says must hold ultimate sway, is where Zuma falls down.

If he was referencing Romans 13, as seems to be the case, he would realise that it was a scripture that was advocating for a stable society.

A bit of context: one sect of Judaism at the time was a militant group called the Zealots, the Julius Malemas of their time, if you will. They expected Jesus, or whoever the messiah was, to overthrow Rome, the government of the day. Paul was clarifying that this was not the case: Christians were to be good citizens wherever possible, particularly in obeying the laws of their country.

As citizen number one, Zuma should do the same. The Constitution that governs South Africa completely separates government and church, and celebrates freedom of expression – including the right to criticise our political leaders. It also includes very carefully thought out balances in the form of Chapter 9 institutions, Parliament and the judiciary to act as checks against Zuma’s executive powers.

Romans 13 does not tell us to mindlessly submit to our government. It tells us to obey the law, pay our taxes and not plot an overthrow of government. Drawing a cartoon taking aim at the president or robustly critiquing his government’s decisions is not covered.

Zuma’s off-the-cuff remarks are usually an insight to his true beliefs, and they generally show poor respect or understanding of our Constitution – and a hyper-sensitivity to criticism. He clearly does not like to be questioned. But the right to do so, alas Mr President, is protected by the Constitution you and everyone else in this country have signed up for, which itself is protected by the very scripture that you quote.

Verashni Pillay is an associate editor at the Mail & Guardian.


Ramaphosa’s ‘Christianity to the rescue’ call

March 7, 2013

Opinion: Ramaphosa’s ‘Christianity to the rescue’ call

06 Mar 2013 00:00 – Mpho Moshe Matheolane


From apartheid to the war on terror, religion has been used to further political agendas. Mpho Matheolane wonders what’s behind Ramaphosa’s God call.


Cyril Ramaphosa with President Jacob Zuma. (Gallo)

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A few days ago ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, while addressing a congregation at the Pentecostal Holiness Church’s centennial celebrations in Rustenburg, said Christians needed to “become the moral conscience of our country” and that “this country cares for the Lord” and recognised God’s importance and hegemony.

Strangely, he did not mention any other religion or faith-based groups whose belief system might be different from that of Christianity. In a phrase, the clarion call – at least, that is how I heard it – was “Christianity to the rescue.”

To be fair, Ramaphosa was addressing the issue of the horrid persistence of violence and rape that has marred the South African psyche and landscape – a landscape most of us wonder about with a certain sense of jadedness and fear of what new horrors might be presented on any given day of the week.

Still, I have to admit that I found it rather peculiar that someone like Ramaphosa would dish out such populist-sounding utterances without any circumspection of how it could or would possibly be interpreted.

Ramaphosa, in that brief moment, reminded me that not only has the personal become the political, but that the religious have long since been enveloped by the same distinction. Religion in a sense always was the facilitating agent for politics to entrench itself within the lives of human beings.

Religion continues to be the “opium for the masses” used to perpetuate the causes of politicians and meet their own ends – while sprouting convenient falsehoods of how it is ultimately the people that their actions aim to serve.

Granted, a lot has changed since the days of Pope Alexander IV – father of Cesare Borgias who is believed provided Niccolò Machiavelli with the inspiring and equally frightening archetype for his famous work The Prince. But political use of religion to further interests of the few still remains.

We should remember that it was George W Bush’s invocation of Christianity that formed part and parcel of the invasion of Iraq and the war on terror. Colonialism itself, along with apartheid, had religion as a source of misguided fortitude to persist with imposing an ideology that was clearly detrimental to those who fell under their subjugation.

Nowadays religious institutions and their leaders are no longer the all-powerful sources of authority. They have been replaced by politicians, often times with derision. But these politicians, for all the history that precedes them, have become as adept if not more so, in their chicanery as some of the religious leaders such as Alexander IV himself. Ramaphosa illustrated this point succinctly when he decided to draw on the spiritual beliefs of his audience in the attempt at getting his message across.

I am willing to believe that his intentions were probably sincere but given the undeniable fact of how the same Christian belief that he was invoking, is just as beset by the same troubles that it is expected to combat, I don’t see how its use in the form of political rhetoric helps in any tangible manner.

There have been reports of priests raping people and molesting children with very little perceivable consequence from the involved religious institutions. Religion, or rather Christianity, has mostly proven to be intolerant of anything that places it in a bad or heavily critical light. Do not get me wrong, I am well aware that there is a difference between religious institutions and agents, such as churches, priests and religious belief itself. But how do we say Christians need to become the moral conscience of South Africa when for example, a well-known South African gospel singer was recently arrested on the grounds of statutory rape and his court appearance was marked by incredible support for him from his fans and ridicule for his 15-year-old victim?

All I know right now is that our problems as a society cannot be easily wished away with the mere invocation of spiritual belief.




What do YOU think?


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