Rochelle de Kock and Mayibongwe Maqhina
PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma is in the hot seat again – this time after leaving religious leaders and opposition parties fuming over his claim at the weekend that only an ANC membership card could guarantee entry to heaven.
But if any Christians and political parties were incensed by his religious utterances, the people he was speaking to were more concerned with earthly matters, such as the state of the “cardboard” houses the ANC-led government had built for them.
Addressing a gathering in Mthatha at the weekend, Zuma said voters were “blessed” if they cast their ballot in the ANC‘s favour – and that a vote for the opposition was in fact a vote for the devil.
And while the provincial council of churches said Zuma‘s statement should be taken lightly and be seen as nothing more than “a joke”, Pastor Jimmy Crompton from the Word of Faith Christian Centre in Nelson Mandela Bay said it was unacceptable.
“His statements demean the gospel; the president should desist from making such statements,” he said.
The Rev Warren Muller of the Pearson Street United Congregational Church said religion and politics should not be mixed.
“A Christian is someone who believes in Jesus Christ and politics do not play a role in religious eternal rewards. I think it was nothing more than a party campaign by Zuma to win over ANC votes.”
The DA, UDM and Cope all slated Zuma‘s comments and demanded an apology.
DA leader Helen Zille said: “If Zuma has been correctly quoted, his words combine blasphemy, intimidation and blackmail. It is unbelievable the president of a constitutional democracy can threaten voters with such untruths.”
The DA has further said that ordinary South Africans of all backgrounds and creeds would find the president‘s comments “offensive and unacceptable”.
“His words are incendiary and dangerous in that they seek to mobilise along religious lines, and sow seeds of division in our communities.”
UDM provincial chairman Mongameli Bobani, who is also a councillor in the metro, said: “We are not surprised by his comments, but we are concerned. We call on him to retract his statement.”
Cope provincial spokesman Nkosifikile Gqomo said Zuma‘s comments showed “the ruling party can‘t handle it that the Constitution allows for people to be affiliated to the party of their choice”.
ANC regional spokesman Zandisile Qupe said Zuma‘s statements on heaven and hell should not be taken literally. “During the apartheid regime, people were living in hell, so to speak, but since the ANC has come into power we have improved the lives of the people, giving them heaven on earth in a sense because they can walk around freely,” Qupe said.
Unfazed by the furore he had sparked, Zuma continued his visit to the Eastern Cape on Saturday, with door-to-door walkabouts and mini-rallies.
However, although he and his entourage were mostly welcomed wherever they went, Zuma‘s efforts to charm Mdantsane‘s Manyano informal residents fell a little flat.
After he endorsed a show house constructed for the people in the area, the residents were at pains to let him know they were having none of it.
Nomlinganiso Monakali said: “We want brick houses.”
Zuma asked: “Can a poor person choose? You can‘t ask for a brick house when you live in a shack.”
Monakali repled: “No father, those houses are made of cardboard.”
An elderly resident, Nowiniti Ncikane, said: “We do not want cardboard houses. I am prepared to die in this shack. but I want a brick house.”
So shocked was Zuma that he declared the residents were led by “powerful” leaders.
“They know how to make the mind believe what is not (true),” Zuma said.
Luyanda Lusizi , a local leader, told Zuma said they were not opposed to the houses for the sake of it. “A beneficiary gets a house subsidy once. It make sense that a person gets a real house.”
But Zuma chastised those who prolonged the debate over housing, saying that, as a result, the elderly such as Ncikane were likely to die without shelter.
“Where will her dignity be when she dies?” he asked.
Zuma also caught a firsthand glimpse of the Buffalo City Municipality‘s housing crisis when he met Egoli residents, who demanded houses and complained about flooding of the shoddily built ones in the area.
Zuma acknowledged their concerns, but chose to focus on voter registration. “I promise I will come back to listen to your burning issues,” he said.
During his visit to Egoli, Zuma gave R500 each to four pensioners to “buy drinks”.
“We did not expect it. We were shocked. He knows that we are pensioners and we have just been paid. It is a good gesture on his part,” said Ntombolwandle Mqolo.
l Are President Zuma‘s efforts enough to keep the Eastern Cape firmly in ANC hands?Click here for more stories in our e-Edition on Monday.