Zuma trying to ignore churches over public services protests

By Ecumenical News International
August 22, 2009

The largest Christian grouping in South Africa says it is concerned that it was not invited to be part of an interfaith group formed to help President Jacob Zuma deal with national protests against a lack of essential services - writes Munyaradzi Makoni.

The 27-member South Africa Council of Churches, which includes Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican representatives, said it was neither informed of, nor invited to the recent formation of the National Interfaith Leaders Council.

The SACC said this contradicted the council's General Secretary, John Lamola, who said that all faith-based organizations were invited.

"Although we do not presume that our exclusion was malicious, the SACC is disappointed at not being offered the courtesy of an invitation," the council said in a 19 August 2009 statement.

During the apartheid era, the SACC was closely indentified by the government as being close to the then banned African National Congress, which has now ruled the country since 1994.

But some of church members supported a new party formed earlier in the year in opposition to the governing party. The Rev Mvume Dandala, the leader of the Congress of the People, or Cope party, was once a key leader in the SACC.

Pastor Ray McCauley of the Rhema Church, who stirred controversy by hosting Zuma at his church during the campaign for the April general elections, chairs the group of about 25 religious leaders that was formed on 27 July.

The group is made up of people from Christian, African traditional churches and the Muslim community and its goal is to help the government improve delivery of basic infrastructure for the population and deal with other problems affecting those living in informal settlements, the shanty towns that border many urban areas.

The chief parliamentary whip of the African National Congress, Mathole Motshekga, told the first meeting of the interfaith group he appreciated the fact that as religious leaders they have experience in dealing with conflict situations.

A wave of "service delivery protests" erupted in July in many of the poorer, mainly black-inhabited suburbs of South African townships, with residents calling for better housing and infrastructure.

The SACC said it had made contact with the office of the president, the interfaith group leaders and the ANC's commission for religious affairs to find an "amicable way forward".

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]

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