The South Africa Council of Churches (SACC) expressed its shock Wednesday after President Jacob Zuma, an ordained priest, reportedly claimed Christianity was to blame for issues facing the nation's orphans and elderly.
“As Africans, long before the arrival of religion and gospel, we had our own ways of doing things,” Zuma was quoted by the Times LIVE website as saying. The South African president made the statement Tuesday at the launch of a road safety and crime awareness campaign at KwaMaphumulo, in KwaZulu-Natal.
“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,” he continued.
The South African president is an ordained priest at the Full Gospel Church, and according to The West Australian, Zuma has previously stated that his political party, the African National Congress (ANC), would rule until Jesus returns to Earth.
Zuma’s comments have angered a section of the Christian community in his country, with SACC General Secretary the Rev. Mautji Pataki saying that council members were “deeply disappointed” with the remarks. “We are just taken aback. We are shocked and we don't understand,” he added.
Pataki also shared that the council had counted Zuma as a member of the Christian community, and could not see why the president had expressed such hopeless views in regard to the church’s humanitarian work. “The Lord Jesus Christ was a friend to orphans and widowers and the old and the disabled. Wherever they are, we will do our ministry... which is to take care of them. It's a calling. It's not a choice,” the reverend explained.
A statement was released Wednesday on the president’s website seeking to clarify his remarks.
“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,” the statement reads. “This does not in any way imply a negation or rejection of Christianity. It is mischievous to draw such a conclusion.”
The statement sought to assure those concerned that: “the President and Government as a whole enjoy positive and fruitful working relationship with the faith-based sector” and credited some of the greatest achievements in the country to the work of religious leaders.