Zuma 'patches' relationship with South African church body

By Ecumenical News International
29 Jun 2010

South African President Jacob Zuma appears to have patched up a quarrel with the South African Council of Churches, a key body in the struggle against apartheid - writes Peter Fabricius.

The council was offended in 2009 when Zuma failed to consult it about the creation of the National Interfaith Leadership Council (NILC), and did not include it in the new body.

The South African Government's Buanews agency reported on 22 June 2010 that "Zuma, who held a brief meeting with the South African Council of Churches … said the Church had historically played a key role in government and he hoped it would continue to do so by providing advice and constructive criticism."

The NILC is headed by Pastor Ray McCauley, who runs a Pentecostal church called Rhema Ministries, but it excludes South Africa's older established churches, including the SACC, which groups more than half of the country's churches.

The ANC's commission on religious affairs consulted various religious groupings and leaders but ignored the SACC when it sought advice on the launch of the NILC.

After earlier unsuccessful efforts, the SACC met with Zuma on 22 June for the first time since he came into office in May 2009. Zuma apologised for failing to consult the SACC and assured it that he had never intended to marginalise it, according to SACC General Gecretary, Eddie Makue.

He said the SACC accepted Zuma's apology and his pledge that the presidency would in future consult the church body.

The NILC, which comprises Christian, Muslim and African traditional church leaders, has committed itself to helping Zuma deal with his main political problem, the delivery of socio-economic services.

Makue said that the SACC had told Zuma it was ready "to play a role in nation-building, fighting poverty and moral regeneration".

Church insiders say complex religious politics lay behind the 22 June meeting. The SACC enjoyed a cosier relationship with Zuma's predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, but more recently is seen to have lost influence, even among its own member churches.

Zuma's shift away from the established churches towards more populist movements such as Rhema and traditional African churches also relates to his seeking to promote himself as a 'traditional' African.

Some analysts believe it [is] also connected to the fact that the SACC tends to be more independent politically, while Zuma's new allies in the NILC tend to avoid political controversy.

[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.]

[Ekk/3]

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