The Rev Kenneth Meshoe, leader of the opposition African Christian Democratic Party, has condemned a statement attributed to a provincial leader of the African National Congress which compared the president of the ruling party to Jesus.
"The ACDP condemns and totally rejects the ANC's disdain for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Their habit of joking about, and using the name of the Lord in vain, is tantamount to blasphemy and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms," said Meshoe in a 3 December 2008 statement.
"The writing is on the wall for the ANC that has no respect for God," said Meshoe.
The ANC leader in the Orange Free State Province, Ace Magashule, told Die Volksblad newspaper in an interview published on 1 December that the ANC president, Jacob Zuma, is suffering just like Jesus did.
"Jesus was persecuted. He was called names and betrayed. It's the same kind of suffering Mr Zuma has had to bear recently, but he's still standing strong. He's not giving up," Magashule told the newspaper. Magashule was reiterating a statement he had made on 28 November when he addressed Zuma supporters while their leader was in the Supreme Court of Appeal in connection with legal proceedings on graft charges.
Africa Christian Democratic Party leader Meshoe said, "The ANC's Free State chairperson compares with a holy and righteous Jesus Christ, the unrighteous and unholy Jacob Zuma, who faces serious allegations of corruption. The ACDP deplores and totally rejects this."
Meshoe also denounced a statement by Zuma in May which the ANC leader said that God expected the African National Congress to continue to govern South Africa. "Their nonsensical claims that the ANC will rule until Jesus comes is nothing but extreme arrogance that will cause them to lose the privilege of governing South Africa," said Meshoe.
In his interview with Die Volksblad, Magashule explained why he said he did not believe anyone would be uncomfortable with him drawing parallels between Jesus and Zuma. "Why would it make people uncomfortable? I'm a Christian too. There's absolutely nothing wrong with comparisons of this nature," said Magashule. "I never said Zuma was Jesus. He can't be Jesus. I merely compared the kind of persecution that had to be endured." Magashule said, "People are slandering Zuma. What do they want from him? He has long ago apologised and asked for forgiveness for what he has done wrong."
The ACDP has four of the 400 seats in the South African parliament compared to 297 for the ANC and 47 for the main opposition Democratic Alliance.
An apology that Zuma did make nationally was for having unprotected sex with a woman who said she was HIV-positive, information that emerged in 2006 during a rape trial against Zuma at the end of which he was acquitted.
The Supreme Court of Appeal reserved judgement until 12 January to decide on an appeal by the National Prosecuting Authority against a lower court ruling which had effectively halted the prosecution of Zuma on corruption charges.
[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.]