Rev Mpho Tutu’s Sunday Times article on religion and politicians – 27 October 2014

Nor did God support the National Party

By Reverend Mpho Tutu

In the 1830s, a group of Dutch-speaking colonialists embarked on an epic trek across the South African interior to escape British rule and find land for the creation of their own sovereign state.

In those days, before estate agents and property magazines, land was primarily obtained through military conquest. From the perspective of the trekkers the seizure of land was entirely justifiable on the basis that they were a civilizing Christian force. God was on their side and they were doing localheathen a favour, they said.

On 15 December 1838, the day before a decisive battle was fought, they made what they believed was a covenant with God, promising to hold the battle date sacred forever and to construct a church as a symbol of their victory.

It did not cross their minds that those for whose defeat and subjugation they prayed were also God’s children; that there is only one God, mother and father of us all.

On that day, the Ncome River ran red with the blood of the might of the isiZulu army. And the date, 16 December, has been a public holiday in South Africa ever since.

Fast-forward about 150 years… The apartheid edifice is crumbling; the struggle is raging on a number of fronts. Among our greatest achievements is the formation of an interfaith movement that exposes the lie that God favours white over black, or Christian over Muslim or Jew.Through coming together, religious leaders cripple the moral-spiritual justification for apartheid at a stroke.

Those churches that had preached that God supported apartheid apologised for their errors, and since 1994, when our freedom came, our state functions have been usually been preceded by multi-faith or secular prayer.

No longer would the nation celebrate 16 December as Dingaan’s Day, or the Day of the Vow. Henceforth, the day would be known as Reconciliation Day, because we understood that “God has no religion”, as Mahatma Ghandi so succinctly put it.

Never again would South Africans be able to justify selfish actions on the basis of affiliation to any particular set of cultural and/or spiritual beliefs – or misguided senses of their own cultural and/or spiritual superiority or supremacy.

The interfaith movement took its foot off the accelerator and pretty much went to sleep, deserving of rest, they thought,because the job was done.

A good lesson learned, you’d think.

What then, should we make of President Jacob Zuma’s insistence that God is a supporter of the government, that the ANC will rule until Jesus comes, and that Heaven is bedecked in ANC branding? “Whether we like it or not, God has made a connection between the government and the church,” he reportedly told the 33rd Presbyterian Synod in Giyani earlier this month.

South Africans have such recent memories of the corrosive effects of a state claiming a divine right to discriminate against certain of its citizens. Could we so quickly have forgotten that no matter where we come from or what we call God, we are members of one family, the human family, and we are made for goodness? That we are made for unity, for reconciliation, for one another, for love?

Over the past 20 years we have been coming to terms with what the Constitutional Court has called “the progressive realisation of our rights”.

In simple terms, what this is saying is that the Constitution sets the standard we want to achieve over time. Of course it is much simpler to guarantee the rights of women to safety and dignity on paper than it is to do so in practice. It is easier to agree on the principle of universal access to quality education and health care than it is to actually deliver it.

We have made some great strides in the delivery of basic services, we have stricken hundreds of perverse discriminatory laws from the statute books, and we have created the framework for a society in which all people can live in dignity.

But at the same time we have witnessed many of the very politicians whom we believed could virtually walk on water sinking in the quicksand of personal aggrandisement and greed. Many South Africans continue to live miserable lives; infants die preventable deaths due to poor sanitation – no woman or child is safe from the scourge of violence or from sexual predators who seem to have beset us.

The job of transforming our society is farfrom over. This is not government’s job, alone. It is incumbent on all of us to contribute to the society we know we can become.

God is not biased in favour of the ANC or the Christian Church – or any other party or faith group for that matter. God is biased in favour of the poor, the oppressed, the ill and the meek, regardless of whether or where they worship or which political party they support.

It should be the job of religious leaders to call societal attention to things politicians would sometimes prefer to ignore, to jab society in the ribs when it becomes complacent, to provide comfort where people are in distress.

It is the role of religious leaders to provide spiritual and moral guidance. It is the role of government to provide infrastructure and services.

If religious leaders allow politics or politicians to set the faith agenda, we break our sacred trust as the voice of the voiceless. It is the powerless, the destitute, and the marginalized whomust set the faith agenda.

As religious leaders we bring people together and we encourage active citizenry. We engage the issues that challenge us – from sanitation to gangs to hunger to sexual violence.

We criticize politicians where criticism is due, and applaud them for doing the right thing. But our applause is only meaningful when it is trustworthy.

In my view, it is impossible to trust the words of a faith leader who speaks from the back pocket of a political party. Faith leaders cannot represent political parties; they must represent the community, particularly the most vulnerable.

It is impossible to trust politicians who claim divine sanction they do not really have.

God did not bless the bloodshed at the Ncome River. God was not a supporter of the old National Party. And God is not a member of the ANC – or any other party.


This article was published in the South African weekly newspaper, The Sunday Times, on 27 October 2013