Opinion: Ramaphosa’s ‘Christianity to the rescue’ call

A few days ago ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, while addressing a congregation at the Pentecostal Holiness Church's centennial celebrations in Rustenburg, said Christians needed to "become the moral conscience of our country" and that "this country cares for the Lord" and recognised God's importance and hegemony.

Strangely, he did not mention any other religion or faith-based groups whose belief system might be different from that of Christianity. In a phrase, the clarion call – at least, that is how I heard it – was "Christianity to the rescue."

To be fair, Ramaphosa was addressing the issue of the horrid persistence of violence and rape that has marred the South African psyche and landscape – a landscape most of us wonder about with a certain sense of jadedness and fear of what new horrors might be presented on any given day of the week.

Still, I have to admit that I found it rather peculiar that someone like Ramaphosa would dish out such populist-sounding utterances without any circumspection of how it could or would possibly be interpreted.

Ramaphosa, in that brief moment, reminded me that not only has the personal become the political but that the religious have long since been enveloped by the same distinction. Religion in a sense always was the facilitating agent for politics to entrench itself within the lives of human beings.


Religion continues to be the "opium for the masses" used to perpetuate the causes of politicians and meet their own ends – while sprouting convenient falsehoods of how it is ultimately the people that their actions aim to serve.

Granted, a lot has changed since the days of Pope Alexander IV – father of Cesare Borgias who is believed provided Niccolò Machiavelli with the inspiring and equally frightening archetype for his famous work The Prince. But political use of religion to further interests of the few still remains.

We should remember that it was George W Bush's invocation of Christianity that formed part and parcel of the invasion of Iraq and the war on terror. Colonialism itself, along with apartheid, had religion as a source of misguided fortitude to persist with imposing an ideology that was clearly detrimental to those who fell under their subjugation.

Nowadays religious institutions and their leaders are no longer the all-powerful sources of authority. They have been replaced by politicians, often times with derision. But these politicians, for all the history that precedes them, have become as adept if not more so, in their chicanery as some of the religious leaders such as Alexander IV himself. Ramaphosa illustrated this point succinctly when he decided to draw on the spiritual beliefs of his audience in the attempt at getting his message across.

I am willing to believe that his intentions were probably sincere but given the undeniable fact of how the same Christian belief that he was invoking, is just as beset by the same troubles that it is expected to combat, I don't see how its use in the form of political rhetoric helps in any tangible manner.

There have been reports of priests raping people and molesting children with very little perceivable consequence from the involved religious institutions. Religion, or rather Christianity, has mostly proven to be intolerant of anything that places it in a bad or heavily critical light. Do not get me wrong, I am well aware that there is a difference between religious institutions and agents, such as churches, priests and religious belief itself. But how do we say Christians need to become the moral conscience of South Africa when for example, a well-known South African gospel singer was recently arrested on the grounds of statutory rape and his court appearance was marked by incredible support for him from his fans and ridicule for his 15-year-old victim?

All I know right now is that our problems as a society cannot be easily wished away with the mere invocation of spiritual belief.

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Mpho Moshe Matheolane
Mpho Moshe Matheolane is a Motswana from the little town of Mahikeng. He is a budding academic, researcher and writer with interests in art, history, semiotics and law. He sits on the Constitutional Court Artworks Committee – a clear case of serendipity – and is a firm believer in the power of an informed and active citizenry.

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