President Jacob Zuma’s cabinet reshuffle last week provoked strong criticism by national church leaders and Christians have been involved in protest action across South Africa. We have reports on some of the protest action — in PE and Cape Town
The church in Cape Town, led by the Methodist Bishop Michel Hansrod, were quick off the mark in mobilising participation in spontaneous protest outside parliament the morning after President Jacob Zuma’s divisive cabinet reshuffle.
About half the 500 to 600 protesters who were quickly mobilised via social media to gather in front of parliament on Friday were Christians, among them a number of Methodist clergy in their black robes and a sizeable contigent of women conference goers, according to an observer who preferred not to be identified.
Activists, especially linked to local group SA First made up the rest of the early bird protesters. The Christians used the opportunity to pray outside the seat of government.
Protest action in Cape Town continued this week and dominated the memorial service yesterday (Thursday April 6) of ANC veteran Ahmed Kathrada at a jam-packed St George’s Cathedral in central Cape Town — an iconic venue of protest events during the years of struggle against apartheid.
The service was to remember Kathrada’s life but was mostly focused on mobilising around the Zuma issue because that was what his family felt was important, said the observer. Sacked finance minister Pravin Gordhan was the keynote speaker but religious leaders also addressed the gathering. Church leaders, Jewish leaders and activist group leaders were among the audience which spilled into the street.
Activist groups including SA First and Save SA were yesterday in charge of plans for a mass march to parliament from 12 today. Younger activists were setting up camp in the city centre ahead of the march and with a view to engaging in 48 hours of discussion about the state of the nation. Some Christians were participating in the camp-in.
In another campaign today people were preparing to link hands along main road routes. The church was being kept up to date with planning for today’s events but was not leading it, the observer said.
He said Christian peace and justice witnesses who were raised during last year’s campus protests were serving as observers at all protest events, helping to maintain a prayerful and peaceful presence.
The high Christian visibility at protests was, however, being questioned and criticised by a significant number of Christian activists — many of whom were involved in a recent justice conference in Cape Town which challenged Christians to face up to injustices in SA.
The critics asked why so many Christians were ready to protest the moment that the money of middle class and wealthy people was threatened but they had been silent on issues such as lack of sanitation and poverty, said the observer. They saw today’s march as a march to protect privilege and wealth and said they were rather going to spend the day going to help with sanitation issues or other areas of social injustice.
While the critics raised valid questions, the debate between the two Christian camps was quite vociferous in some circles and it was sad to even see friends falling out over the issue. He said hopefully Christians participating in protests will be conscientised to start engaging with the nation on unselfish issues and will become very clear about why they are marching.
Indeed, the impact of Zuma’s economy-damaging leadership and corruption, on our poorest communities has been a theme of the unprecedented — in recent years — number of statements released in the last week by national church and Christian leaders.