The reaction of opposition parties to President Jacob Zuma’s heaven comments is “childish”, African National Congress (ANC) secretary general Gwede Mantashe said on Tuesday.
“We are more surprised by the childish reaction of the opposition parties … [at] how childish can the opposition be in an open society and a free society,” Mantashe told reporters in Johannesburg.
“I don’t understand the issue … I don’t understand the hullabaloo … Is this the selective application of rights?”
Zuma reportedly said on the weekend that to vote for the ANC was to choose heaven, while a vote for the opposition amounted to choosing “hell”.
This drew strong rebuke from opposition parties, church groups and other bodies. Some described the remarks as “blasphemous”.
ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu added at Tuesday’s briefing that Zuma had been “metaphorical in his articulation”.
Mantashe said if it was blasphemous to associate the ANC with Christianity, it was blasphemous to have political parties with the word Christian in their names.
The African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), led by Kenneth Meshoe, was at the forefront of criticism of Zuma’s comments.
As outrage mounted on Monday over Zuma’s promise of a place in heaven for ANC voters, the ruling party’s chaplain general sprang to his defence.
“We are taking a view that people are taking that statement out of context,” said Reverend Dr Vukile Mehana.
“The president was using a figure of speech, he did not mean it in a literal sense,” he said.
A Democratic Alliance (DA) transcript of Zuma’s remarks during a voter registration drive in Mthatha on Saturday claimed he said: “When you vote for the ANC, you are also choosing to go to heaven. When you don’t vote for the ANC you should know that you are choosing that man who carries a fork … who cooks people.
“When you are carrying an ANC membership card, you are blessed. When you get up there, there are different cards used but when you have an ANC card, you will be let through to go to heaven.”
The DA called for an immediate apology, describing Zuma’s remarks as “incendiary and dangerous” and condemned them as “an act of shameless political and religious blackmail”.
It was the sort of “political skulduggery” that may be the norm in autocracies, but which should be anathema to South Africa’s constitutional democracy, the DA said.
The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) also felt Zuma owed the nation an apology.
“Now [the ANC] wants to mobilise support along religious lines, by blatantly lying to the nation that a vote for the ANC is a ticket to heaven,” said IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
The Christian Democratic Party (CDP) said Zuma should know better by now, after previous comments that people’s forefathers would haunt them if they did not vote ANC.
“The appalling tendency of President Jacob Zuma to use religion as an instrument of intimidation to coerce people into voting for the ANC borders on blasphemy,” said CDP leader Reverend Theunis Botha.
The ACDP said nobody could get into heaven because of their political party and to suggest that angels in heaven wore ANC colours “is nothing but blasphemy”.
The United Democratic Movement (UDM) drew on a previous comment by Zuma that “the ANC would rule until Jesus comes back” to say that it too considered the latest statement blasphemous.
“The UDM views this as a serious matter; the president is the custodian of the country’s Constitution. Such careless statements are in direct opposition to the freedom of expression and freedom of association guarded by our Constitution.” — Sapa