Tuesday, March 31, 2009



By Barry Ronge
Mar 29, 2009

"Perhaps divine intervention is just the thing to cast light on our bizarre election campaign."

This is the weirdest election through which I have ever lived. Just when you think you have seen everything, like Jacob Zuma and Pastor Ray McCauley behind the same pulpit — a true meeting of minds, I would say — you see Bantu Holomisa requesting a similar spot on the Rhema playlist. And why not?

The amount of publicity Zuma’s visit generated completely outweighed the congregation’s ire and blurred the dubiousness of its assumed intentions. If Zuma can co-opt the heavenly hosts in search of his road to presidential glory, why should Holomisa not share in the celestial campaigning?

What about Mvume Dandala of COPE, a man of the cloth who is reaching out in ecumenical harmony to his brothers-in-faith? And Helen Zille? Would the elastic band of religious tolerance stretch enough to accommodate her?

It’s a fascinating situation and I suspect the folks at Rhema are beginning to wonder if they have opened the proverbial can of worms. How many politicians will they allow to trudge up to its glossy techno-pulpit in the glare of TV cameras, with reporters crowding into the church ?

There is such a thing as too much publicity, especially if the church should refuse a visit from anyone who requests an infomercial from the establishment. Rhema could run the risk of seeming to takes sides, and of using their influence and money to get someone elected.

To my mind, when you reduce the gap between Church and State, there’s no telling what kind of fallen angel might slip through that crack.

There has already been much murmuring about the reasons for Zuma’s appearance at Rhema. They hold similar views on money, in the sense that money is a blessing and if you happen to be blessed by wealth, it does not divide you from God. Indeed, they believe it brings you closer so that you can more deeply appreciate the Lord’s bounty. Didn’t work that way for Carl Niehaus, did it?

They’re not entirely out of line, though. One cannot imagine what we might have lost from the struggle had the venerable Desmond Tutu not adopted, and indeed, lived the role of “the troublesome priest”. One thinks of Trevor Huddleston and the many other ministers of all races and faiths, who did bold, admirable and often dangerous work.

But somehow Zuma at Rhema doesn’t fit so neatly.

The Rhema fuss reminded me of another way in which this election is different. The history of this country has always involved an “us and them” division. It started with the Dutch settlers and the indigenous populations who saw their land annexed and their freedom curtailed by the colonial invaders.

Then it became the Brits against the Dutch Boers, warring factions that agreed on only one thing, and that was the exclusion of all people of other races. Through wars, treaties, more wars and great social disruption, we finally created the apartheid era, the ultimate, brutal “us and them”.

Then came Madiba and that glorious, almost successful, attempt to create a country of equality and tolerance, but we can see those divisions creeping back, hardening attitudes, splitting communities and creating antagonists.

But it is no longer a black/white division because the white population has diminished to a size where it can hardly even be considered a significant swing vote. The “us and them” has become much more a “haves and have-nots” situation, and nothing skews the high ideals of democratic politics more than the question of money — who has it, who doesn’t and why the gap between them is so wide.

When you see riots in Lenasia where Indian residents are railing against Paul Mashatile, the public face of the ANC in Joburg, new fault lines are clearly displayed.

The ANC led by Mandela was never a consolidated political or socio-economic unity. It was a collaboration of organisations that joined forces to win a victory that brought about decisive change.

But not everybody had the same agenda, and when the ANC, under Mbeki, mounted its bully pulpit and claimed victory and power for itself and its members alone, the defections began and the differences — political, social and moral — have shifted from slight distances to yawning chasms.

You can see that in the appalling election posters and advertising. Have you seen a single political poster that has made you stop and think? Have you heard a slogan or rallying cry to match Obama’s “Yes We Can” chant? I have not.

All I hear is squabbling within the parties and vicious rumours outside the parties. Election policy now also includes slamming the lid on lingering scandals. We’ve got a bankrupt national airline; a bankrupt national broadcaster; drug busts at OR Tambo and Heathrow; and a seemingly endless revelation of executive corruption at the highest level.

No wonder Mr Zuma turned to God, or at least to the Rhema Church, but God alone knows what any party in this election race thus far has to offer the nation’s anxious voters.