Durban - Former president Jacob Zuma divided the ANC. He divided the country. And now, he has divided the church.
This is according to leaders of mainstream churches are now distancing themselves from supporters of Zuma who, under the banner of the Interfaith Council of South Africa, held a vigil last week ahead of the former president’s court appearance.
Zuma faces charges of fraud and corruption.
Nomabelu Mvambo Dandala, executive director at the Diakonia Council of Churches, said the council and its members distanced themselves from the vigil and the march on Friday to the high court.
She said they believed it was inappropriate for the church to lobby behind politicians when churches were made up of people from different political affiliations.
Cardinal Wilfrid Napier OFM, chairperson of the KwaZulu-Natal Church Leaders’ Group, said his organisation distanced itself from the events linked to Zuma’s court case.
Just as efforts had been made during Zuma’s era as president to capture the state, during the same period efforts were made to capture the church, he added. He said this was evident given the church leaders who were now demonstrating open support for Zuma and doing so in the name of the churches.
He said efforts to capture the church took two forms: inviting church leaders to enter into partnership with the government to tackle social issues such as HIV/Aids, and inviting selected church leaders to join a state-sponsored Council of Religious Leaders.
“Significantly, not one of the leaders of the mainstream churches were invited to the discussions that preceded the formation of these bodies. Needless to say, none of them have since been contacted by the provincial or national government leadership,” said Napier.
He said church leaders such as Pastor Vusi Dube and Bishop Bheki Ngcobo, who have been at the forefront of the vigils in support of Zuma, were not members of the Church Leaders’ Group in the province and had never attended any of their meetings.
“Neither Bishop Ngcobo nor Dube have ever been a recognised members of the Church Leaders at provincial level. Neither have they attended any meetings of the KZN Church Leaders’ Group, which has led the church in KZN since the mid 1980s when the churches brought the province back from the brink of civil war,” he said.
The Reverend Danny Chetty of Practical Ministries also distanced his church from the events to support Zuma.
He said it was unacceptable that some people demanded special attention or held the city and the courts to ransom. He said this defeated the purpose of the rule of law.
“No one is above the law, and Zuma is no exception,” said Chetty.
Ngcobo, who led the men supporting Zuma, criticised the South African Council of Churches (SACC) for having already found Zuma guilty.
Dube, of eThekwini Community Church, dismissed Napier’s comments as unethical for a senior member of the clergy who was supposed to play a fatherly role.
Dube said Napier had never worked in support of anything done by the government when Mbeki and Zuma were president, hence the decision to exclude him.
“He is being opportunistic. He is probably trying to play a good card with the incoming government. I was shocked to hear him make such a statement to the media and imply that there was church capture during Zuma’s era. This actually brings the question: what did he do about it? As a senior person of the church, he should have called us to order. We never said that we were the voices of the church, but we came out to support Zuma just like any other people in our jails, and we will continue to do so,” said Dube.
Thousands of Zuma supporters dressed in ANC regalia, including Zuma’s son, Edward, packed the Albert Park fields on Thursday evening in support of the former president ahead of his court appearance in the Durban High Court on Friday.
The charges against Zuma were dropped in 2009. However, National Prosecuting Authority boss Shaun Abrahams, who on March 16 again found that there were reasonable prospects of a successful prosecution, announced that the NPA would prosecute the former president.
Zuma has since been charged with one count of racketeering, two counts of corruption, one count of money laundering and 12 counts of fraud.
According to the indictment, Zuma, then ANC deputy president and MEC for Economic Development, illicitly pocketed payments from the French arms company Thales through his adviser, Schabir Shaik.