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Christians debate Zuma’s values in South Africa


Pastor Xola Skosana of the Way of Life church in Khayelitsha township, South Africa, doesn’t believe that people or the country can be “saved” by governments, but by the church.

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January 18, 2008
- Dan Nighswander

Pietermaritzburg, South Africa — Under headlines like “Power plays and political warfare in South Africa” (Stephanie Nolen, Globe and Mail, Dec. 17, 2007) Canadians have read about the most recent political manoeuvring in South Africa. In short, the African National Congress (ANC), which dominates the political scene, held a policy and leadership convention where the presidency of the party was determined. Jacob Zuma was elected as President of the party over Thabo Mbeki, who continues as President of the country.

The campaign for party leadership was marked by emotional rhetoric. Those who oppose Zuma point to his open polygamy, his misogynistic attitudes and foolish comments during his recent rape trial. He was acquitted of the rape, but now faces sixteen charges of racketeering, corruption, money laundering and fraud.

Robin Raubenheimer knows Zuma personally. A retired senior civil servant and active Anglican lay leader Raubenheimer acknowledges Zuma’s moral faults. He recognizes that the new ANC leader “does not live by Judeo-Christian standards.”

Raubenheimer says Zuma is an African, not a European or American leader. But he also points out that honoured British (and, we could add, Canadian as well as American and other) leaders have also had corrupt friends, questionable sexual practices and assistance from others for their personal financial problems.

Zet Kwinana is a young leader at Grace Community Church in Philipstown and a regional ANC secretary. He was a delegate at the ANC convention and is a strong Zuma supporter. Kwinana hopes that Zuma will continue to pay close attention to the needs of the poor, including the rural poor. Zuma was a simple herd-boy as a child. His family continues to live in a rural area.

Zuma’s speech, in which he named HIV/Aids, crime, development of young people, and land reform as priority issues resonated with Kwinana. Many consider the current government a failure on these fronts. Kwinana is confident that under Zuma’s leadership, advances in these areas will accelerate.
Nondumiso Skosana, a senior church leader in the Way of Life church is not convinced. As a medical doctor working in the massive impoverished township of Khayelitsha, she sees daily the failure of the ANC government to change the situation of poor blacks. Skosana believes that the current leaders are more interested in their own advantage and more attentive to the concerns of white business people and international interests than the needs of people she serves. And she doesn’t have much hope that the new president will be able to shift government resources and energy to where it is needed. “What we need,” she says, “is a black leader who has a black consciousness.”

Nondumiso Skosana’s husband pastors the Way of Life Church in Khayelitsha. Pastor Xola Skosana, is also sceptical. But his scepticism goes beyond particular leaders and political parties. He notes that “African politics puts a lot of weight on the leader,” and explains that “people want someone to come and save them and change their lives.”

The current political tensions confirm three things for Pastor Skosana:
a) the tension between the interests of the rich and the interests of the poor will always exist;
b) the cracks that appeared in the ANC during this presidential campaign represent the beginning of the end of the ANC’s absolute dominance since 1994; and
c) this is a necessary stage in the maturing development of democracy in this country.

Pastor Skosana doesn’t believe that people or the country can be “saved” by governments, but by the church, where people find God and community, right values and hope. He resonates with Psalm 146:3 – “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.”

The political maneuverings in South Africa will continue with charges, accusations, contradictory forecasts, anxieties and hopes – in fact, quite as they do in Canada, the USA and other countries. Christians participate to varying degrees and with varying expectations in the political process.

For a long time now, many churches have concluded their worship every week with the prayer, “God bless Africa; guard our children; guide our leaders; and give us peace, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.” This continues to be our prayer.

Dan Nighswander and Yvonne Snider-Nighswander are Mennonite Church Canada Witness workers in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.