Jacob Zuma, the President of South Africa, blamed Christianity for bringing orphans and old-age homes to Africa by destroying the continent's native traditions.
"As Africans, long before the arrival of religion and [the] gospel, we had our own ways of doing things…those were the times that the religious people refer to as dark days but we know that, during those times, there were no orphanages or old-age homes. Christianity has brought along these things."
The statement predictably created a ruckus, but was also indicative of the checkered relations between Zuma and Christianity, the faith of nearly 80% of South Africa's population.
Zuma manages to combine tribal traditions- he is married to 3 wives, the third one 30 years his junior, while being an honorary Christian pastor and easily mixes Christianity with ancestor worship. Zuma also claimed that his African National Congress would rule South Africa until the messianic era.
Nevertheless, Mr. Zuma's aides hurried to calm down the atmosphere, claiming that Zuma was not referring to Christianity but to Western culture that had brought about the demise of the extended family, creating the need for old-age homes, orphanages and other institutions to take care of the needy.
The General Secretary of the South African Council of churches (SACC) Mautji Pataki responded“ We do not understand why the president, whom we have always counted as one amongst us Christians, would find the Christian faith to be so hopeless with regard to building humanity.” "
The SACC, once influential in the fight against apartheid. has been on the outs with Zuma. First it was too closely aligned with Thabo Mbeki, Zuma's rival in the ruling African National Congress, and Zuma's predecessor as president Thabo Mbeki. Secondly, as Tracy Kuperus wrote in a recent article in the Journal of Church and State, SACC has been pressuring the South African leadership to help depose Robert Mugabe, the autocratic ruler of neighboring Zimbabwe. It has also criticized the ANC's market oriented economics as opposed to economic redistribution.
The response by Zuma and the ruling African National Congress has been to form a National Interfaith Leaders Council (NILC). A key figure in the new organization has been Pastor Ray McCauley, a former bouncer and bodybuilder (he placed 3rd to Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1974 in the Mr. Universe competition) turned preacher. NIILC partners with the government in providing housing and other services.
As opposed to preachers who condemn the rich and particularly conspicuous consumption, McCauley's church is frequented by pop stars, sports heroes and politicians, including the president's high spending wife Ma Ntuli. Prior to the 2009 elections McCauley invited Zuma to his church to the exclusion of other candidates as an obvious endorsement. It is not surprising that Zuma is equally supportive of McCauley.