Now, more than ever, clerics must speak out on the rot
RELIGION has a powerful presence in the lives of many, infusing meaning into everyday experiences, connecting us to others through communal values and providing comfort in the face of suffering too terrible to speak of.
Religion is a compass guiding us onward towards realising our better and more enlightened selves. It was this which galvanised members of the religious fraternity to challenge apartheid in churches, synagogues, mosques, prayer clubs, living rooms and student dorms.
The previous regime presented the religious fraternity with a common evil – apartheid.
Hence, it is unsurprising that in 1997, soon after South Africa’s emergence from the embers of apartheid, then-president Nelson Mandela sat with religious leaders to discuss their role in his administration’s nation-building and social transformation project.
Religious leaders from all denominations were once again called to arms to build a nation we could all be proud of. This was, and I believe still is, a laudable enterprise.
Central to Mandela’s approach was the need for religious institutions to work with the state to overcome what he coined the “spiritual malaise” which he associated with the day’s high incidence of crime.
The National Religious Leaders Forum, now the National Interfaith Council of South Africa (following a merger with the National Interfaith Leaders Council), was born from this engagement.
Mandela charged the religious leaders with analysing the cause of the nation’s moral deficit and collectively finding a way of tackling it.
The moral-regeneration movement would find itself supposedly affirmed, “driven” and funded by the government.
However, with many of the ANC’s moral sentinels having passed Saint Peter’s gates, it has consistently shown itself to lack the credibility required to champion the charge for truth, transparency and justice.
The ruling party, and by extension, the government, is currently beset by scandals as a result of the President, Jacob Zuma. The most recent of these being allegations of state capture by the prominent Gupta-family.
The details of the numerous, varied and seedy allegations levelled against Zuma are common knowledge and not worth repeating here, except to say that the movement for moral regeneration, even in its infancy, was placed at a disadvantage as it ironically fell under the stewardship of Zuma, who was the then deputy president. So who should we look to? I still believe that the religious fraternity has a tremendous role to play in the moral development of South Africa.
However, to do this, I dare say that the religious fraternity must also first get its house in order.
We live in a time where charlatans are permitted to masquerade as religious leaders, preying on people in search of spiritual guidance and help.
We’re all too familiar with the explosion of “churches” led by the likes of those who would douse their congregants with insecticide, with no regard for the safety of their flock.
In the City of Joburg, we are well acquainted with leaders of religious groupings who flout the city’s laws while claiming to be upstanding members of the community. In the process, they would make the lives of residents around them a living hell.
To date, the city has successfully closed down 21 illegally operated churches due to by-law infringements.
The city has been forced to submit 23 cases to attorneys for legal action due to by-law infringements.
Last month, I supported the community of Yeoville who were in a desperate bid to end their harassment at the hands of one such illegal church operator who operated inside a residential dwelling that had been illegally converted into a church despite numerous appeals from the city for the operation to cease.
In upholding the rule of law, the court ordered the pastor to stop all illegal church activity – much to the relief of the community.
Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident. Sadly, such instances erode communities’ confidence in the religious fraternity as a whole.
In an ideal world, the religious community should be able to effectively monitor and prevent such situations from taking root. Indeed, this self-correction is crucial to strengthening and maintaining the public faith in the religious fraternity as a beacon of strength in the community.
I would also like to implore religious leaders to continue their fight for ethical leadership from our politicians – as they did in the past. They must turn their backs on political leaders who would threaten our society’s collective moral fibre.
It is saddening that the likes of Zuma, Major-General Berning Ntlemeza and the shifty Hlaudi Motsoeneng are publicly lauded and praised by some of our religious leaders.
This does nothing but undermine the ethical credibility of the religious fraternity itself.
We need to see religious leaders of every faith demanding accountability and an end to corruption within our country.
It is not those who would steal from South Africans through unethical leadership, poor integrity and corruption who are in need of prayer and support.
It is South Africa and its people who, now more than ever, need prayer, support and collective leadership from the religious fraternity.
We need prayer and leadership from religious fraternity