ZCC bishop slams greed

2012-04-21 10:22

At the end of the Easter long weekend, a ­relative sent me an ­ecstatic text message: “They say there were 9.4 million of us here today!” Imagine that, I thought uncritically for a moment, more than 100 soccer stadiums full of worshippers.

The event was the annual ­pilgrimage by members of the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) to the ­village of Boyne, a cold and dusty place under the western slopes of the northern Drakensberg mountain range in Limpopo, east of Polokwane.

A message followed from ­another relative: “We received a powerful message. It will instil the culture of discipline we need.”

The message – delivered during the Easter service sermon by his Grace, the Right Reverend Bishop Dr BE Lekganyane, the spiritual leader of the ZCC – was unprecedented, although insiders say the bishop has been raising concerns privately among politicians and government officials for a while.

Bishop Lekganyane held at ­attention the most prestigious church congregation in the country, made up of government ministers, provincial premiers, MECs, members of legislatures, chiefs, business leaders and celebrities.

“Go lena kamoka ke re Kgotso a e be le lena! Peace be unto you.” This is a customary greeting among ZCC members as they meet.

Bishop Lekganyane started his sermon with a quote from the ­Bible: “It is not lawful to put them (coins) into the treasury, because they are the price of blood.”

He was referring to the 30 pieces of silver given to Judas Iscariot by the chief priests, but left behind on the temple floor. Judas hanged himself for his betrayal of Jesus of Nazareth.

The bishop then turned without warning on the Judas Iscariots among his congregants: “The ZCC does not take any proceeds that are the price of human blood. I want to urge all of you who amass wealth and want to make donations to our church, we do not want dirty ­money here.”

The written speech has these words in bold capital letters.

In the week after the sermon, ThobelaFM broadcast the recorded speech to its listeners and hard copies were circulated to church members across the country. The ZCC is very shy of media coverage and this probably explains the ­limited coverage of its events and pronouncements on current ­issues.

It is also seen as backward by ­urban sophisticates.

The ZCC is a wealthy church. In Polokwane, it was said that in the past, the banks closed to count the contributions made to the church at the Easter sermon – large drums full of cash, much of it bronze and nickel.

There is now a bank on site.

The ZCC, founded in 1910, two years before the ANC had strong links to similar religious movements in the US, sharing the ­biblical narrative of escape from slavery and a call for inner cultural ­renewal.

Some of the earliest ANC leaders shared similar intellectual influences. The ZCC is different from the “church businesses” and “prosperity churches”, which are popular among both rich and poor.

Nevertheless, many of its members are small business owners who ask for blessings over their ­efforts. They thank the church ­traditionally with a gift of their own choosing.
Bishop Lekganyane spoke ­directly to their frustrations.

“Professional and deserving service providers cannot do ­business any more in government because Judas has taken people’s money and has to ensure that other deserving competitors are ­eliminated. Government tenders are predetermined because Judas has received his kickback.

“Peace be unto you!

“Judas only thrives where there is tolerance for corruption and leaders who do not hold ­themselves to high ethical standards and the same leaders do not act with integrity.

“Peace be unto you!”

The speech was giving a warning that corrupt politicians and officials will be excommunicated from blessings from the church.

The wise bishop’s words were given at a brittle moment in our ­national debate over political ­leadership.
While others have been told to shut up, there is silence. Luthuli House and the presidency have kept their counsel to ­themselves.

My view is that the ZCC is ­mainstreaming and is attracting young black intellectuals. As with other religious social movements in history, the ZCC provides a ­platform for social mobility.

ZCC members are moving into the economy as corporate ­professionals, senior civil servants, ­business tycoons, trade ­unionists, small business owners, farmers and more. They are often on the front line in land claims. The tone of the bishop’s sermon ­indicates the extent to which social mobility is frustrated by corruption.

Is the ZCC being moved towards a radical position on issues of ­social justice?

No, it is a conservative social movement, but this ­sermon could impact on national politics in unexpected ways.
» Harding is the author of Lekgowa, which is published by NewVoices2010

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