South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier has strongly criticised the decision by the country's National Prosecution Authority to drop graft, money-laundering and racketeering charges against African National Congress president Jacob Zuma - writes Munyaradzi Makoni.
Napier, who heads the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, said in a statement on 7 April 2009, "The NPA decision not to proceed with the prosecution of Mr Jacob Zuma has denied both Mr Zuma and the country the chance to establish his innocence or guilt once and for all through the normal process of a court of law."
The cardinal, who was a staunch critic of the old apartheid system, stated, "In the interests of peace, healing and reconciliation, we appeal to all parties involved to use this unfortunate situation as an opportunity to commit themselves to good governance, with the expected accountability and transparency."
Napier, South Africa's first black cardinal, added, "It is crucial that all in positions of responsibility learn from this episode to shun corruption in all its forms."
Clerics who head South African opposition political parties joined in criticising the decision about Zuma, who has cultivated a strong following among the poorest communities in South Africa's black majority and who said there was a vendetta against him.
"The decision to drop Zuma's charges has been extremely disappointing. It did not refer to the charges themselves but to the process of acquiring implicating information," the Rev Kenneth Meshoe of the African Christian Democratic Party told Ecumenical News International.
NPA acting national director Mokotendi Mpshe had said South Africa had come to a "difficult decision" on Zuma.
The ACDP's Meshoe whose party believes that Christians should be in positions of leadership to spearhead change in South Africa said the decision to drop Zuma's charges would maintain a cloud of suspicion around the ANC leader. He said the prosecuting authority had buckled under political pressure such as threats from Zuma's supporters who openly said, 'If there is no Zuma there is no South Africa."
Meshoe noted, "This is a clear indication that we are not all equal before the law."
The former head of All Africa Conference of Churches, the Rev. Mvume Dandala, now a presidential candidate for the ANC breakaway party, the Congress of the People, said, "The confidence in the justice system has been eroded."
The Rev Theunis Botha, the Christian Democratic Party, leader told ENI, "Though this brings Zuma's case to unsatisfactory closure, our country will take a long time to get over this issue because dropping the case without proving Zuma's innocence raises a lot of questions. It casts our country in a bad light."
On 1 April, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former Cape Town Anglican archbishop, Desmond Tutu, railed against Zuma's fitness to stand as president saying he was not looking forward to his presidency.
ANC leaders bitterly attacked Tutu after his pronouncement on the ANC president. Zuma's spokesperson Zizi Kodwa told the Sowetan newspaper the ANC president saw no reason to meet with Tutu because the archbishop saw him as "a devil with two horns and a tail".
Kodwa said, "Why must JZ run after Tutu's forgiveness as if it is the most important thing? Even God would have forgiven Zuma if he had sinned."
[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.]