South Africa's ruling African National Congress has lambasted Nobel Peace Price laureate Desmond Tutu, accusing the former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town of "blasphemy" after he said he did not look forward to ANC president Jacob Zuma becoming the country's head of state - writes Munyaradzi Makoni.
"In the year of Barack Obama, can you imagine what it is like when you are walking in New York and they ask you who will be the next president. I can't pretend to be looking forward to having him as my president," Tutu said at the launch of a book, "Pilgrimage of Hope", in Durban.
The Diakonia Council of Churches, a Durban-based grouping of churches supporting social justice, had organised the meeting on 1 April 2009.
"For his own sake, I hope they are not going to have a political solution. If he is innocent as he has claimed to be, for goodness sake, let it be a court of law that says so," said Tutu. He was referring to charges of graft, money-laundering and racketeering linked to an arms scandal that has dogged South African politics for years, but for which Zuma has not yet been tried.
"The ANC is increasingly disturbed by the manner in which Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu is addressing the issue of the NPA [National Prosecuting Authority] and the pending case of the president of the ANC Comrade Jacob Zuma," said ANC spokesperson Jessie Duarte on 3 April.
She also said that Tutu's reference to the fact that some ANC supporters view Zuma as "God" are "blasphemous". Duarte said, "The ANC has not equated itself to God and it has never pretended to be God. We are taken aback by the bishop's sacrilege."
An Anglican priest, the Rev Jo Mdhlela, writing in the Sowetan newspaper on 1 April had said, "Let us stop making Zuma a god, even if there are many of his followers who see him as a 'Black Jesus', an allusion he cannot escape because he himself, in one of his pronouncements, told South Africa that the ANC would run the country until the Second Coming."
For his part, Tutu said the charge which hangs over Zuma, against which the ANC president vigorously defends himself, tarnishes his suitability for the presidency. Tutu said that alhough he liked Zuma's warm personality he found it hard to answer questions from overseas if asked whether Zuma would be the next South African president.
The retired archbishop criticised the government and the country's ruling elite for arrogance and a failure to listen to what South Africans wanted. "It was easy to be against something during the struggle. A far more difficult task has been left to you - making a reality of our freedom. So when our new government behaves somewhat strangely, it is very difficult to condemn because it looks like you are unpatriotic," Tutu said.
The National Prosecuting Authority, which is handling the charges against Zuma, had said it would announce on 3 April whether it would go ahead with its case against Zuma, but later said it would make known its decision on 6 April 2009.
[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.]