President Jacob President Zuma receives blessings from the leadership of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church during the church service in Giyani,Limpopo.06/10/2013.Sibongile Ngalwa.GCIS photo Studio

Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma on Sunday walked a controversial tightrope between invoking God for his administration and the official oath of office in which politicians in government pledge to do their job “so help me God”.

At a church service in Giyani, Limpopo, on Sunday, Zuma told members of the 33rd Presbyterian Synod to pray for the government – and for politicians who insulted each other.

“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, who spoke in Zulu throughout, is quoted as saying.

“Because if you allow them to insult those in authority, you are creating a society that is angry with itself.”

These comments were off-the-cuff remarks, straying from the official speech about churches building communities, a caring society and respect for one another.

However, people at on Sunday’s church service told Independent Newspapers that the context of Zuma’s comments was that the oath of office taken by politicians invoked the help of God to do their jobs. Official reports back supported this claim.

Much of the president’s off-the-cuff remarks dealt with the country’s history of violence during the apartheid decades, and that this had not been resolved in today’s South Africa. Hence, the president said, churches had a key role to play in bringing down violence and “must pray for us (politicians) not to insult, or to be disrespectful to, each other”.

The president, according to newspaper reports, also spoke about those who lacked values and raped children and the aged, as animals: “If you don’t have (values) then you are not all (that) different from animals.”

However, on Sunday’s comments were not the first time Zuma controversially invoked religion. As far back as the June 2009 election campaign trail in Mpumalanga he said the ANC would rule “until Jesus comes back”.

More recently, ahead of the 2011 local government election trail in the Eastern Cape, Zuma was quoted as saying an ANC membership card guaranteed direct access to heaven.

Although officially electioneering has not yet started, with just seven months to go before the 2014 poll, there is much at stake for the ANC and Zuma.

Cape Argus