S. African bishop likens presidential call to stay out of politics to those of apartheid leaders; he will ignore it

(Photo: Albin Hillert / WCC)Archbishop Thabo Makgoba has been outspoken from the pulpit. Makgoba, the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, preaches during a July 19 interfaith prayer service, held at the Roman Catholic Emmanuel Cathedral in Durban, South Africa, during the 2016 International AIDS Conference.

Church and State are separate in South Africa, but throughout the country's 20th and 21st century history, the government and the major Christian institutions have been at loggerheads over injustice.

South African Anglican head Archbishop Thabo Makgoba was the latest to join this fray.

He told President Jacob Zuma Dec. 25 that the Church will "ignore" his recent call for clergy to stay out of politics, a similar call made by the country's former apartheid leaders.

The archbishop also raised the question of whether religious communities from all faiths in South Africa should withdraw their moral support for the government in the country.

"Can you believe it?" he asked a congregation attending Christmas midnight Mass at St George's Cathedral, Cape Town.

"A President of a democratic South Africa telling the Church to stay out of politics? You would be forgiven for thinking that you had climbed into a time machine and gone back 30 years into the past, when apartheid presidents said the same thing."

Zuma, who has been embroiled in multiple scandals during his tenure, on Dec. 5 called on church leaders to concern themselves with praying for the country rather than being preoccupied with politics.

"It is sad to see the church leaders getting mired in matters of politics instead of praying for leaders. I urge the church to pray for us as leaders pray for our people to stop the hatred," Zuma said.

In his Christmas sermon, Makgoba, the archbishop of Cape Town said, "As we look ahead to 2017, we see a ruling party at war with itself, crippled by division to the degree that some serving members of the Cabinet believe the President must step down.

"As a result we see a government becoming paralysed by an inability to achieve policy certainty and to chart a clear way ahead.

"People of faith need to begin asking: At what stage do we, as churches, as mosques, as synagogues, withdraw our moral support for a democratically-elected government?"

Makgoba is a successor of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.

He noted that despite the crippled ruling party, South Africa's democracy is vibrant.

"South Africa is not broken. We have a sound Constitution and we have seen over this past year that we have resilient institutions.

"The courts, especially the Constitutional Court, civil society, the media, whistle-blowers in the government and private sector, and the many honest and hard-working public servants we do have - they are all doing their jobs well."


But, he cautioned that the Church is not doing enough, and he announced a series of Lenten Bible studies for next year to address this.

Makgoba, who also took on the apartheid regime said, The Christmas story is.... the story of the God of Love being born in a stable, some kilometres from the centre of power."

He noted that time in the Holy Land was, "a time when political power was dragged into the mire of the politics of suspicion, revenge and unhealthy intrigue – as we see in Herod's reaction to the news of Jesus's birth.

"It is incredible to think that one so entrenched in power could be so disturbed, so threatened by a prophetic Word emerging from the margins."

Makgoba said he had not yet joined the many calls for President Zuma to resign, "but said that he should step aside while his party leaders address their crisis.

"But our situation compels us to ask: When do we name the gluttony, the inability to control the pursuit of excess? When do we name the fraudsters who are unable to control their insatiable appetite for obscene wealth, accumulated at the expense of the poorest of the poor?

"And let's not confine these questions to politicians. We need to ask them of our business leaders and, indeed, of ourselves. These are not just the 'sins' of politicians and business leaders, in these sins and ills we see our own shortcomings."

(Photo: © Peter Kenny)Crowd leaves St. George's Cathedral Cape Town on Aug. 28, 2016.
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