Professor Russel Botman, the rector of Stellenbosch University, has declined to stand as a candidate in South Africa's forthcoming elections for a party that has broken away from the country's ruling African National Congress - writes Munyaradzi Makoni.
Botman, a theologian and a former president of the South African Council of Churches, had been proposed by the Congress of the People (COPE) as its candidate for the premiership of South Africa's Western Cape province in the 22 April national and provincial elections.
However, in a statement posted on his university's website on 24 February 2009, Botman said, "I would like to inform you that I have notified the COPE leadership that I have decided to decline the offer. My current position at Stellenbosch University is a challenging one."
The COPE party was formed in December 2008 after Thabo Mbeki was made to step down as South Africa's president three months earlier. It announced on 20 February that its candidate for president would be the Rev. Mvume Dandala, a former Methodist leader who stepped down at the end of 2008 as general secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches.
Some South African media speculated that Botman's decision paves the way for the past president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the Rev Allan Boesak, to be COPE's candidate for the top post in the Western Cape. Boesak was reported to have been a runner up to Botman in the nomination for the post.
Following the nomination of Botman, who comes from the Reformed tradition, and Dandala, who is also a former president of the South African Council of Churches, the SACC said it, "holds no bat for any political party, including the party which our two former leaders may join".
In a statement, SACC president Tinyiko Maluleke said, "We believe it is the prerogative of all South Africans and all South African Christians, to choose the political party of their choice without being led by the SACC or any church leader to do so."
The SACC was prominent in the struggle against apartheid and at one time some people would say, "The SACC is the ANC at prayer." Another prominent South African church figure to head the SACC was Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Desmond Tutu, the former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town.
Read Botman's statement in full: http://tinyurl.com/d5r2pk 
[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.]