Not all neo-Pentecostals support Zuma

2019-07-01 16:00
Former president Jacob Zuma addresses supporters outside court in Pietermaritzburg on Monday. (Felix Dlangamandla, Netwerk24)

Former president Jacob Zuma addresses supporters outside court in Pietermaritzburg on Monday. (Felix Dlangamandla, Netwerk24)

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I must congratulate the author of the article, "How Pentecostalism explains Jacob Zuma's defiance and lack of shame" for raising the matter of the consumerism that characterises neo-Pentecostalism on the African continent and elsewhere, and her attempt to link it to Jacob Zuma's political lifestyle (ethic).

I wish to respond to this article by raising my concerns that the author has created an impression that neo-Pentecostalism eMzansi (South Africa) is monolithic; the claim that Zuma is a practicing neo-Pentecostal; and that neo-Pentecostalism eMzansi followed the developments on the continent.

First, the author does not state that not all neo-Pentecostal leaders were part of the decision and implementation to ordain Zuma as honorary pastor. Branding and putting neo-Pentecostal leaders as supporters of Zuma is grossly misleading. The picture used to support this claim has one bishop in his priestly attire from KwaZulu-Natal and two pastors next to him during the march to support Zuma outside court. The article continues to bishop Ngcobo's allegiance to Zuma.

All these leaders are part of a neo-Pentecostal formation, the National Interfaith Churches of South Africa (NICSA). Nowhere does the bishop claim to represent the entire neo-Pentecostal churches and leaders zaseMzansi and this formation does not represent many neo-Pentecostal leaders.

It appears the author prides herself on using a section of neo-Pentecostalism to castigate all Neo-Pentecostals in South Africa.  The leaders in the used picture were part of a section of a pro-Zuma ANC, as well as the BLF and MKVM. Why then, does the author use these leaders to represent all neo-Pentecostals zaseMzinsi, when it is clear they are not?

It is also disturbing to see that the author fails to present facts that there were and still are other sections of neo-Pentecostalism, e.g. International Federation of Charismatic Churches (IFCC), which never rallied behind Zuma. The Evangelical Association of South Africa (TEASA), a national religious formation representing Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Charismatics and some neo-Pentecostals, through its general secretary, Moss Ntlha, were vocal in condemning Zuma's ethic. Although, not coming out, other formations and leaders never supported Zuma. On the contrary, the general secretary collaborated with the South African Council of Churches, Save South Africa and the South Africa Christian Leaders' Initiative's critique and denounced Zuma and his ethics.

Second, Zuma is an honorary pastor of this formation. Making one an honorary pastor is weird and unheard of in religious circles. In addition, Zuma is not a genuine neo-Pentecostal. His ethic prior and during his two terms as president of the country is testimony. Zuma won the hearts of many after the then president of the country, Thabo Mbeki, removed him as the deputy president. It is no secret that Julius Malema (then leader of the ANCYL), Zwelinzima Vavi (then general secretary of Cosatu), Blade Nzimande (general secretary of SACP), Carl Niehaus (one of the leaders of MKVA), the ANCWL and SANCO sympathised with him and ensured that he become the president of the ANC and the country after.

Some neo-Pentecostals, classical Pentecostals and Protestants joined these group. Vavi called him "the unstoppable Tsunami". Surely, Zuma did not disappoint. He became just that, "the unstoppable Tsunami". The developments, namely, the reinstatement of corruption charges against Zuma and consistent mention of him in the Zondo commission into state capture, which the author correctly refers to to demonstrate how Jacob Zuma rose to be "the unstoppable Tsunami".

The second question, is then why does the author not mention such facts related to Zuma's ethics and instead blame neo-Pentecostal leaders?

Third, the author will do well to include facts that two neo-Pentecostal members eMzansi contributed to the efforts that held Zuma accountable during his term as president of the country. These are the former Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, and the current Chief Justice, Mogoeng Mogoeng. These practicing neo-Pentecostals zaseMzansi used their legal minds and neo-Pentecostal faith to hold Zuma (a honorary pastor of a section of neo-Pentecostals eMzansi whose ethics make us question whether he is practising neo-Pentecostal as the author suggests in the article) and his followers mentioned above accountable (it should be remembered that Malema and Vavi later joined those who critiqued of Zuma's ethics).

Had the former Public Protector's remedial action to make Zuma pay back the money used in renovating his Nkandla home not been held by the court and the Concourt's ruling that Jacob Zuma failed to uphold the Constitution not occur, then the author's view about neo-Pentecostaliem eMzansi would be correct. Unfortunately, it is not so. The opposite is true. Neo-Pentecostalism eMzansi opposed Zuma's ethics which the author happily associates with it. 

I conclude by saying that although some sections of neo-Pentecostalism eMzansi supported Jacob Zuma, some sections of neo-Pentecostalism eMzansi did not. Instead the latter as discussed above contributed to the current development and direction of uprooting corruption and the current president's vision of a "new dawn".

- Dr Modisa Mzondi is a senior lecturer and supervisor at the South African Theological Seminary. He writes in his personal capacity.

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