THE Archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Revd Thabo Makgoba, is standing by his Christmas Eve sermon that called for the swift removal of the South African President, Jacob Zuma, who is accused of widespread corruption.
“I was preaching the word of God with all humility and confidence ‘that those who have ears will hear’,” Archbishop Makgoba said on Tuesday. “It would seem most have heard.”
Preaching at midnight mass in St George’s Cathedral, Cape Town, the Archbishop referred to the newly elected leader of the African National Congress (ANC), Cyril Ramaphosa, who is also Deputy President, and has promised that his party will be more accountable and will act against corruption.
The inference to be drawn was that Mr Ramaphosa must act against President Zuma, he said. “He knows, and we know, that President Zuma and his cohorts of corruption have been behaving as if they own the South African Treasury. But they don’t: the resources of the Treasury are the common property of all South Africans, to be deployed for the common good, not for the interests of a few.
“I want to say from this pulpit: Shame on Mr Zuma for allowing people with dirty feet to walk through his mind and heart. And shame on his fellow leaders in the ANC for allowing him to get away with it until now.”
Any act of corruption, the Archbishop said, “no matter by whom it is carried out, is an act of theft from the poor”. And he went on: “If Mr Ramaphosa wants the ANC to get a new lease of life, he and the new leadership will need to cut the umbilical cord which ties them to the Zuma era, quickly and decisively. . . I cannot see how two centres of power — one centred on the party and the other on the state — can collaborate when their values seem diametrically opposed to one another. I cannot see how the ANC will make a clean break with the past and set us on a new course unless the new leaders elected at NASREC [the National Recreation Center in Johannesburg] last week, supported by their MPs in Parliament, act boldly and quickly to replace Mr Zuma as President of the country, and to follow that up with a carefully targeted Cabinet reshuffle.”
PANewly elected: the leader of the African National Congress, Cyril Ramaphosa
In 2016, President Zuma had called on church leaders to stay out of politics. This view was reflected by many on social media. Writing on the Black Opinion website, in a post headlined “Archbishop Thabo Makgoba must go”, the Revd Maieane Khaketla, a Lesotho Anglican priest who was suspended by his bishop in 2011, wrote: “I hung my head in shame and utter disgust as I watched the ‘sermon’ delivered by the Archbishop of Cape Town.”
Another Zuma supporter, Mzwanele Manyi, urged the Archbishop to back off: “I would like to believe that many of the [ANC] voting delegates are members of your Church and have benefited from your preachings BEFORE even going to the Conference. Your call is not new. Am appealing for your respect of the Conference Resolutions which are always crystal clear.” And in a later tweet: “May I suggest you take a step back and allow UNITY to set in.”
But the director of the Jesuit Institute in South Africa, Fr Russel Pollitt, posted on Twitter: “Archbishop Makgoba’s Christmas sermon is in line with a good and venerable tradition.” Another Twitter user, Tinyiko Mpenyana, wrote: “During apartheid it was acceptable for church leaders to be involved in politics & to provide shelter to activists. Now the same people who used the Church to protect them then, thinks the Church should look the other side when they busy having curry & stealing from the poor.”
Writing in Spotlight Africa, a Jesuit publication, Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya argued that the tradition of speaking truth to power is deeply rooted in biblical narratives. He concluded: “So, go ahead and criticise Makgoba if you believe he is wrong. But if your basis for rejecting what he says is that he should stick to church business, then you probably have no idea what business the Church has been in for thousands of years.”
Speaking on Tuesday, Archbishop Makgoba said: “I pray, and will continue to pray, for all, and those in government. We must focus on the new struggle for equality of opportunity, equality of equality, without fear or favour. The national development plan, which is biblical in its focus, and our constitution, demand the call I made.”
As chairman of the National Church Leaders forum, and in consultation with the Southern African Anglican Synod of Bishops, and interfaith bodies, he would continue to engage with Mr Ramaphosa and his team. “I will not be a lone voice, but will seek to work with my colleagues to remind Cyril Ramaphosa of his words.”
In his sermon, the Archbishop also challenged the cathedral congregation to play a more active part in politics. “After our liberation, too many of us folded our arms and waited for the government to fulfil our dreams.” He urged people to join the debate about Mr Ramaphosa’s pledge to speed up the expropriation of land without compensation.