Zuma and the ANC's God Complex

By Dale T. McKinley · 22 Apr 2013

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Picture: President Jacob Zuma attends United Congregational Church of Southern Africa Centenary Celebration, 31 Mar 2012 courtesy GovernmentZa/flickr.
Picture: President Jacob Zuma attends United Congregational Church of Southern Africa Centenary Celebration, 31 Mar 2012 courtesy GovernmentZa/flickr.

God (of the Christian variety) runs deep in the veins of the ANC. 

Ever since its founding conference in 1912 was opened by a prayer and the singing of Enoch Sontonga’s Christian anthem - ‘Nkosi Sikele’ i-Afrika (‘God Bless Africa’) - and ended with the election of a leadership dominated by Christian preachers/theologians, the ANC has, with varying degrees of intensity and application, embraced and invoked its and its leaders ‘special’ relationship to such a God.

So special in fact, that over 80 years later the ANC ensured that despite our secularly-celebrated Constitution which includes the right of freedom of religion/belief, Nkosi Sikele’ i-Afrika became the national anthem and the Preamble to the Constitution invokes God to ‘protect our people’ and to ‘bless South Africa’. 

Here’s the simple, if non-mathematical equation; God + country + democratic freedom = ANC (leadership being the main underlying variable).

If, over the last 18 years, anyone was wont to forget the historic inviolability of this special relationship, ANC President Jacob Zuma was quick to remind us at the organisation’s centenary celebrations last year:  “God expects [the ANC] to rule this country because we are the only organisation which was blessed by pastors when it was formed … it is even blessed in Heaven.”

In 2003 Zuma, indirectly invoking Saul/Paul’s biblical ‘road to Damascus experience’, announced to what surely must have been a somewhat befuddled National Council of Provinces, that his recent trip to the ‘Holy Land’ had turned him into God’s channeler:  “I arrived from Jordan this morning just after 5 o’clock… I must say I took advantage of being in Jordan to go to the River Jordan where Jesus was baptised – I was around there. Jericho and Jerusalem were just across the Dead Sea. So, if I look at anyone, he or she will be blessed.”

Zuma might have had a case in respect of those amongst his inner family and political circle who were clearly ‘blessed’ when he bestowed upon them his own ‘special relationship’ (translation: you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours).  However, it soon became apparent that Zuma saw his ‘blessedness’ in much more literal biblical terms.

As the public and media criticism of his various political/business/personal actions intensified during 2006, Zuma told the Sowetan that he was “like Christ” because the media and his detractors wanted to “crucify him”. Fortunately for Zuma, unlike the biblical ‘Christ’ he was not actually crucified and did not rise from the grave a few days later to join God in ‘Heaven’.

Nonetheless, Zuma and his Alliance apostles found contemporary currency for such a martyrdom-cum-resurrection allegory in the wake of their Polokwane victory.  Just over a year later, Free State Premier Ace Magashule, told ANC supporters that, “in church they sing that they will follow Jesus wherever he goes. That’s how we should be about Jacob Zuma.” Zuma and his giddy apostles then quickly translated this dual ( organisational and personal) God-assured ‘blessedness’ into what has become an oft-repeated claim that the ANC will “rule South Africa until Jesus comes back”, or alternatively, “be in power until the son of man comes back”.

Yet, given that the biblical storyline has no definitive timetable for such a return, it doesn’t seem like a particularly good guarantee of the ANC’s politically hegemonic longetivity. I for one will be waiting with baited breath to hear what Zuma and the ANC will say if ‘the son of man’ returns tomorrow or just before the next elections; practical exigencies of the ensuing rapture notwithstanding.

Indeed, since his ascension to the highest political office in both party and country Zuma has continuously sought to establish a symbiotic link between the ANC and (a Christian) God’s ‘home’ on terra firma – the church.  Speaking to a Zion Christian Church gathering in Mahikeng in 2009, Zuma claimed that the ANC was a “child of the church” and that the church’s support for the ANC was an “unequivocal biblical declaration that if God is for us who can be against us.”

In another address to church leaders in Mpumalanga during the same year, Zuma outdid himself when he enjoined the enthusiastic audience to ensure both they and their flocks understood that God and the ANC were effectively one and the same: “When priests pray for poverty to end and for development, then it means God agrees with the ANC because the ANC stands for those things ... When you preach in your churches, just explain to the congregation about the ANC. People who love God must not play with their votes, they must vote for the ANC...We in the ANC know God.”  The practical, political message could not have been any clearer – a vote for the ANC (and Zuma as its leader) is a vote for God.

More or less the same kind of messianic message has also been carried forth with great vigour into the heart of the ANC support base.  Speaking to party supporters in Gauteng in 2008, Zuma boldly declared that, “no-one can argue South Africa [ruled by the ANC] is not based on the principles of God.” He went even further during 2011 in a series of electoral speeches to ANC supporters and members in the Eastern Cape.

At a rally in Graaf-Reinet Zuma enjoined the faithful to “believe in two things: God and the ANC” while in Mthatha, those two beliefs were then melded into a biblicised spiritual and political journey where voting becomes the determinant of ‘salvation’: “When you vote for the ANC, you are also choosing to go to heaven. When you don't vote for the ANC you should know that you are choosing that man who carries a fork ... who cooks people ...When you are carrying an ANC membership card you are blessed. When you get up there, there are different cards used but when you have an ANC card you will be let through to go to heaven … the holy ones belong to the ANC."  

In Zuma’s mind, one of those holy ones was no doubt his nominee for Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court Mogoeng Mogoeng; and, he did not disappoint.  At his 2011 Judicial Services Commission interview, Mogoeng declared that he “got a signal” that God wanted him to be appointed to the position. Clearly caught up in the ANC’s increasingly political embrace of the ‘holy’ spirit Energy Minister Dipuo Peters, in her 2012 budget speech to the National Assembly, summoned God to defend her department’s decision to support fracking and the intensified exploitation of “the resources that God left us with”.   

Obviously wanting to firmly establish his own ‘holy’ credentials, newly elected ANC Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa speaking earlier this year at the Pentecostal Holiness Church’s centennial celebrations let it be known that South Africa was a “a God-fearing country” which “recognises the importance of the Lord and the hegemony of the Lord.” He went on to say that the church was in the ANC’s “DNA” and that the ANC’s Chaplain-General was there to make sure that “the ANC stays close to God’s light” and does things “in accordance with what God prescribes”.

So there we have it; the ANC and Zuma are not only self-proclaimed children of (a Christian) God but are in power because that’s the way this God wants it. Talk about a serious complex.

Dr. McKinley is an independent writer, researcher and lecturer as well as political activist.

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