Zuma’s comments about the advent of Christianity in South Africa were “perfectly sound”, ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga said on Wednesday.
“Irresponsible journalism will always find a creative way to mislead, and in this case it inexplicably saw an attack on Christianity in the president’s perfectly sound assertion,” Motshekga said in a statement.
He was reacting to an article published on the Timeslive website in which Zuma was quoted as telling attendants at the launch of a road safety and anti-crime campaign in KwaZulu-Natal that “as Africans, long before the arrival of religion and (the) gospel, we had our own ways of doing things.
“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.”
Zuma was further quoted as saying South Africans should return to the “old way of doing things” because modernity had been harmful to society.
“We have passed laws that prohibit you as a parent (from using) corporal punishment. Today, when, as a parent, you bring your child (to) order by using corporal punishment, you are breaking the law, but the person who passed that law cannot raise your child the way you want to.”
Zuma said while he did not blame such legislation, “I can’t be diplomatic about this. It’s a fact”.
Motshekga said a distinction needed to be drawn between “Christianity as a faith” and “nefarious missionary activities, which have brought sufferings upon our people”.
It was a “historical fact” that certain missionary “enterprises” came to South Africa under the guise of Christianity to aid colonialism.
Motshekga added that even apartheid was practised “under the cloak of Christianity”.
“In stressing the importance of ubuntu, the president lamented certain aspects of Western culture which he said had contributed to the corrosion of African value system and culture which are fundamental to national cohesion,” said Motshekga.
“While African culture has since time immemorial taught people to care for each other, embrace and show kindness to one another, the advent of Western way of living condoned (a) ‘each man for himself’ principle.
“This has resulted in elderly people being condemned to old age homes and parentless children sent to orphanages,” he said.
Earlier on Wednesday, the presidency issued a separate statement in which it sought to clarify Zuma’s remarks. Spokesman Mac Maharaj said Zuma had meant to say South Africans should not neglect African culture.
“While we should embrace Western culture and Christianity, we should not neglect the African ways of doing things.
“The president indicated, among other things, that Western culture had brought about the end of the extended family as an institution, leading to the need for government to establish old age homes, orphanages and other mechanisms to support the poor and vulnerable.
“He added that even poverty was an unknown factor as neighbours were always ready to assist each other, giving one another milk or cattle where needed.”
African Christian Democratic Party president Kenneth Meshoe said Zuma’s comments were a “hypocritical and unjustified attack on Christianity”.
“During elections he (Zuma) runs to churches to get votes,” said Meshoe, adding that Zuma was aware Christians had played a significant role in both the apartheid struggle and in uplifting society today. Commenting on Zuma’s remarks about corporal punishment, Meshoe said the ANC itself had outlawed the practice.
“The ANC has led the passing of laws that prohibit parents from using corporal punishment on their children. Christianity teaches that corporal punishment is to be used on a child as a form of discipline.”
Cape Town Archbishop Thabo Cecil Makgoba spoke out against Zuma’s comments in support of corporal punishment.
“Consequences of corporal punishment are grave in any language, creed and colour. On this, I respectfully disagree with the president,” the archbishop said in a statement.
He said while he did not know the full context in which Zuma’s comments were made: “We all have a tendency, as we move on in years, to romanticise the past as utopian and without its challenges.
“Given the number of orphans and old age homes, lack of proper sanitation, poor education provision, death on our roads at this critical period for Christians, we need as Christ commanded, to house these orphans as we did of old.
“We need to care for our elderly better as it was done of old.”
The SA Council of Churches (SACC) said: “We are just taken aback. We are shocked and we don’t understand.
“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,” SACC general secretary reverend Mautji Pataki said.
Meanwhile civil rights group AfriForum said it planned to discuss Zuma’s “extremely insensitive” comments with the government and African National Congress.
Co-founder of the International Orphan Network website, Sean Grant, said the past was less important than the country’s present situation.
“While there may have not been these institutions in the past, certainly we see that the current culture in South Africa is abandonment and negligence. If it weren’t for religious groups and non-profit organisations, there would be far more lack of care, if not dying,” he said. – Sapa