In a parliamentary speech before Nelson Mandela, one of the major driving forces behind the end of apartheid, Jacob Zuma, the current South African president, promised his people more job opportunities and a continued fight against crime, but in thanking those who had struggled for freedom, he ignored the country's churches - writes Munyaradzi Makoni.
Zuma was speaking on the 20th anniversary on 11 February 2010 of the release of Mandela, an event that would catapult the collapse of apartheid and the introduction of universal suffrage in Africa's southernmost nation, which is also the continent's most prosperous.
In response to Zuma's speech, two parliamentary political leaders, who are also pastors, as is the president, urged him to fulfil the promises he made in his previous annual state of the nation address.
"All reports are indicating that we are still in deep waters when it comes to the issues of poverty," said the Rev Mvume Dandala, the leader of the Congress of the People party, which broke away from the majority African National Congress party.
Dandala is a Methodist minister, and a former General Secretary of the Nairobi-based All Africa Conference of Churches. "We would like him [Zuma] to really give us an honest account of how much of his long list of promises last year has been met," Dandala told the South African parliament.
On 11 February, South Africans commemorated the 20th anniversary of the release, after 27 years of imprisonment, of the man who for many had symbolised the struggle against apartheid, and who made a rare public appearance on the day.
Dandala, who played a role like Mandela and another Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in the struggle against apartheid, said he was disappointed that in Zuma's anniversary speech, "not a word about the religious community was raised by the president when he thanked notable figures of the anti-apartheid struggle".
Dandala said Zuma should also have apologised for his government's shoot-to-kill policy introduced to fight crime in 2009, which has sparked controversy following the deaths of innocent people.
"There was no word to the people who have lost their loved ones due to the unfortunate 'shoot-to-kill' programme," commented Dandala. He added that as Zuma's African National Congress government had said people were, "going to be caught in this cross fire … at least one would expect them to be humane enough to acknowledge those people".
African Christian Democratic Party leader, the Rev Kenneth Meshoe, who leads a smaller parliamentary opposition group, described Zuma's speech as, "shallow". He noted, "We are disappointed that fighting corruption is not one of government's top five priorities."
Trevor Manuel, head of the government's national planning commission, defended Zuma's speech, and said the president had promised better education, a public service sector that would deliver more job opportunities, and lower crimes rates. Manuel said he believed these policies reflected the spirit that Mandela's 11 February 1990 release had symbolised.
The day before Zuma's anniversary address, Archbishop Tutu urged all South Africans to recapture the spirit of the day Nelson Mandela was released.
"While politicians dwell on the political significance of Nelson Mandela's release from prison, it is fitting on this momentous 20th anniversary of the event for all South Africans to remember where we come from," said the former archbishop of Cape Town. "For the victory belonged not just to his beloved political organisation, the ANC, but to all the people of our dear land."
[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.]