Now, more than ever, cler­ics must speak out on the rot

The Star Early Edition - - METRO WATCH -

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

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