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01 Apr 2009 15:01
Opposition parties have accused the Rhema Church of lying and being biased towards the African National Congress (ANC) after it refused to allow their leaders to follow in Jacob Zuma’s footsteps and address its congregation.
African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) leader Reverend Kenneth Meshoe said on Wednesday the church had rejected a request from his party to address its members, after the United Democratic Movement (UDM) complained that its leader, Bantu Holomisa, had also been barred.
The ACDP said Rhema leader Pastor Ray McCauley had gone back on his word after telling Radio 702 that he would give all political parties who applied to address his congregation an opportunity to do so.
A controversy broke out a fortnight ago when Zuma spoke in the church and McCauley prayed for the ANC president and referred to him as “our leader”.
About 60 churchgoers walked out in protest and accused Zuma of electioneering in a place of worship.
Said Meshoe: “We are very disappointed to find that he [McCauley] was not truthful and his utterances were just to mislead the public. We
understand that other parties have also been refused permission.
“We thought he was a man of his word, but it appears he is not.”
Meshoe and Holomisa received an identical letter from Rhema Church administrator Giet Khosa, in which they were told they were welcome to visit the church but would not be allowed to make speeches.
Khosa accused the opposition politicians of trying to impose themselves on the church, whereas Zuma had been invited.
“You are welcome to come and visit Rhema any Sunday.
Your presence will be duly acknowledged and announced to the congregation.
“Kindly understand that the decision as to who addresses the Rhema congregation is a prerogative of the church’s leadership. We, as a church, will never try to impose ourselves on any organisation’s platform.
“Those who have in the past addressed the Rhema congregation were invited by us. They did not invite themselves .... [we] cannot grant you the opportunity to address the congregation.”
Holomisa responded that he was “surprised that you would characterise my polite request to be afforded the same opportunity that Mr Zuma was given as me inviting myself and imposing on you.
“Frankly, it begs a question about the integrity of some church leaders who decide for their congregations which political parties they should support or be exposed to.”
He said Khosa’s letter showed scant regard for the political rights of members of the Rhema church, and accused its leaders of trying to ingratiate themselves with South Africa’s likely next president.
“How can you hold members of your congregation captive, to be addressed by only one political leader, as if none of them may support political parties other than the ANC?
“If you want to be viewed as independent and unbiased it is a simple choice: either you allow equitable election campaigning from your podium or you don’t allow any campaigning.
“As decision-makers you are embarrassing your congregation with this entire affair; how will you explain the perception that you are trying to ingratiate yourself with those in power?
He turned down the invitation to visit the church.
Zuma’s visit to the Rhema Church was criticised this week by the Election Monitoring Network, which is headed by prominent religious leaders, as it released a report on pre-election intimidation.
The Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, said all politicians had to respect the right of members of a religious community to hold their own political views.
“As a church, we need to be seen as a place where all are equal.”—Sapa
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