Churches in war of words over ex-president
THE South African Council of Churches (SACC) can go to hell, says Bishop Bheki Ngcobo of the National Interfaith Council of South Africa (Nicsa), which has accused the SACC – an inter-dominational grouping that unites 36 member churches and organisations – of being part of a conspiracy to destroy former President Jacob Zuma.
Ngcobo, who leads a prozuma church grouping, is incensed that the former president is back in court to face charges of fraud, money laundering, corruption and racketeering.
The criminal charges arise from Zuma allegedly soliciting bribes during the government’s multibillion-rand government arms deal in the mid-1990s.
According to the indictment, Zuma, who was then ANC deputy president and Kwazulu-natal MEC for economic development, illicitly pocketed payments from the French arms company, Thales, through his former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik. This allegedly went on from October 1995 to July 2005, in a series of 783 payments totalling R4,072,499.85.
Shaik was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2005 based on the same accusations, but released on medical parole in March 2009.
The SACC has been critical of Zuma’s tenure in office and welcomed his resignation earlier this year.
Ngcobo said the prosecution of Zuma formed part of a broader power struggle within the ANC.
Leading a group of men of the cloth who rallied in support of the former president at his court appearance in the Durban High Court last week, Ngcobo lashed out at the SACC.
“Some like the SACC have found Zuma guilty even before he appeared in court. We cannot tolerate being ruled by the SACC. They are nothing to us but indigenous churches. We are not looking for anything from them. They can go to hell,” Ngcobo said.
Bishop Emeritus Rubin Phillip of the Anglican Church came to the defence of the SACC. Formerly a leader of the Black Consciousness Movement and deputy president to Steve Biko in the South African Students’ Organisation in 1969, Phillip is renowned for his peace-making, reconciliation and mediation initiatives.
“I am saddened that part of the church has been co-opted by some of the political leadership. Instead of standing with the poor and suffering,” Phillip said.
“They are defending policies that are increasing suffering of our people.”
Phillip said it was problematic when a church grouping defended policies that worked against the poor, citing Nicsa as “one example”.
Ngcobo said Nicsa supported radical economic transformation, free education and expropriation of land without compensation. the
Bishop Bheki Ngcobo, wearing purple, alongside Carl Niehaus, spokesperson of Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans’ Association and fellow supporters of Jacob Zuma during the former president’s court appearance in Durban last week.