Zuma aides defend president's remarks on Christianity


JACOB ZUMA, president of South Africa, has become involved in a row over the impact of Christianity on African culture after reportedly blaming the religion for the breakdown of traditional communities.

Mr Zuma said Christianity – introduced by European missionaries mainly in the 19th century – had destroyed the safety net for orphans, elderly people and the poor, according to South Africa’s Times newspaper.

The front-page report prompted criticism from church leaders but was described as “gravely misleading” by presidential aides, who claimed Mr Zuma had been referring to “Western culture” not Christianity.

Speaking at the launch of a road safety and crime awareness campaign in his home province, KwaZulu-Natal, Mr Zuma was quoted as saying: “As Africans, long before the arrival of religion and [the] gospel, we had our own ways of doing things.

“Those were times that the religious people refer to as dark days but we know that, during those times, there were no orphans or old-age homes. Christianity has brought along these things.” Mr Zuma is South Africa’s first Zulu president and a devout follower of tribal custom.

But like many South Africans, he balances indigenous ancestor worship with the Christian God – or at least gives that impression publicly. He was ordained as an honorary pastor at a meeting of independent charismatic churches in 2007 and has been linked to the influential Rhema church in Johannesburg. He once declared that the African National Congress (ANC) “will rule until Jesus comes” in South Africa.

The South African Council of Churches said it was “deeply disappointed” by his remarks this week. Reverend Mautji Pataki, the council’s general secretary, said: “We do not understand why the president, whom we have always counted as one amongst us Christians, would find the Christian faith to be so hopeless with regard to building humanity.” Stung by the growing controversy yesterday, Mr Zuma’s spokesman Mac Maharaj expressed concern at the “misleading manner” in which Mr Zuma’s remarks had been reported.

“President Zuma said that while we welcome the advent of Western culture, some useful traditional ways of doing things and aspects of African culture were undermined or even eroded, some of which were important for the cohesion of communities,” Mr Maharaj said.

“The president indicated . . . that Western culture had brought about the end of the extended family as an institution, leading to the need for government to establish old-age homes, orphanages and other mechanisms to support the poor and vulnerable.

“He added that even poverty was an unknown factor as neighbours were always ready to assist each other, giving one another milk or cattle where needed.”

“This does not in any way imply a negation or rejection of Christianity. It is mischievous to draw such a conclusion. The president was simply asserting African culture as a way in which many people used to live harmoniously, and lamenting the neglect of African culture.” – ( Guardian service)