Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Weekly Newsletter to the Nation
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
As a practising Christian and a career politician, I am often asked how these two vocations complement each other in my daily work and everyday life. Let me admit candidly from the outset that the two are frequently in conflict with one another. On the surface, religion lays the claim to being squeaky clean whereas politics has the unfortunate and not entirely undeserved reputation of being sleazy. For me personally, marrying the two has been something of a balancing act.
Let me explain. I am not a theologian but this is how I read the Bible.
The Old Testament lays down the Ten Commandments: the injunction to love our neighbour as ourselves and generally the importance of observing a strict code of Mosaic Law. The New Testament is a record of the incarnation of Christ, His teachings and the establishment of the Kingdom of God. Again the emphasis is on loving our neighbour as ourselves. I believe that by accepting these key elements from the two Testaments, we extract a broad view of the universe, an attitude to work and general principles to shape economic and social life. None of this, of course, tells us exactly what kind of political and social institutions we should have.
The tension between church and politics was particularly crystallised for me in the early ninety-eighties when I sent the spiritual head of Anglican Communion, Archbishop Robert Runcie a short memorandum ahead of an audience with him.
In it I raised the issue of a ‘Just War’. There were theologians in my own Church who were supporting the so-called "armed struggle", such as, for example, the Kairos Document. In my memorandum I wrestled with the vexed question of when it is right for theologians to accept a ‘Just War’. I was being vilified at home and abroad for not supporting the "armed struggle", which the ANC leader, Mr Oliver Tambo and I had discussed and could not reach agreement on at our two-and-a-half day meeting in London in 1979.
To my surprise, as I arrived at Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop’s Official Residence, Archbishop Runcie was holding my memorandum in his hand which had been faxed to him by the then British Ambassador. Before we even sat down, the Archbishop told me that he had read my memorandum and asked if other leaders agreed with me. I responded: "Your Grace, you are also a leader, do all other leaders agree with you?" And before he could reply, I added: "Did everyone agree with Christ?" The Archbishop then just looked at me without saying a word. It was obvious to me that he had already been briefed by clergy in SA who were sympathetic to and supported the armed struggle.
For historians amongst you, this is the same Archbishop who famously came into conflict with then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with the Church’s report ‘Faith in the City’ which criticised the Conservative Government’s handling of social problems in British inner-city areas.
As a result of this, some leading Conservatives in Britain became strong supporters of the disestablishment of the Church of England, claiming that institutions affiliated to the British state should not express what they saw as overtly partisan political views. Mirroring this divide, the perceived close association between the Dutch Reformed Churches and the apartheid state in South Africa created difficulties for Christians in this country whose loyalties were equally split between their politics and their faith. Throughout the apartheid years, many evangelical denominations notably kept their heads below the parapet.
In addition to international sanctions against apartheid, in recent years the challenges of divorce, women priests and gay rights have threatened to divide my Church. Yet many of the claims of both sides of the respective arguments are strictly ecclesiastical matters without much or any foundation in scripture or tradition. Take the Gospels.
Jesus Christ never once mentions women priests or homosexuality, yet the Church today appears to be paralysed by these issues and the controversies which arise from them. In a country like ours which is struggling to deal with 350 years of oppression, one might have thought that greater focus would be placed on the twelve key texts in the Gospels alone that speak of poverty.
The most famous text Christ evokes is from the Prophet Isaiah (61:1).
Even after translation from the Hebrew, the passage still maintains its lyrical spell which simply enthrals me:
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour."
Poverty, of course, is a perennial theme of both the South African churches and politicians. The recent ANC conference in Polokwane, which saw the elevation of Jacob Zuma to the leadership of the ruling party, focused unashamedly on the plight of the poor with an implication that the issue had been neglected by the previous top management of the party and the country. With the advent of 2008, the challenges posed by poverty naturally take the driver’s seat across the whole political spectrum.
The political organisation I lead, the Inkatha Freedom Party, will take this opportunity to start introducing new measures to counter poverty regularly for testing at local government level. We also must respond to the clear message that came out of Polokwane. After all, some of the municipalities which my party controls in KwaZulu Natal are inhabited by some of the poorest individuals and communities in the land, and it is these people who are the obvious targets for pro-poor policies.
My urgent call for fresh pro-poor policies coincides not only with the blatant poverty in our rural areas but also with the despicable sight of mayors and municipal managers of many rural municipalities with low revenue basis, driving expensive SUVs that could feed scores of impoverished children who head entire families. Incidentally, last year I briefly met the British Conservative Party’s only directly elected executive Mayor, Mr Nick Bye of Torbay in South West England. My office told me subsequently that Mr Bye proudly drives himself around his constituency in his little Citroen. If Christ were amongst us today, I am sure He would rally against this obvious parallel to the moneylenders in the temple.
The IFP subscribes to the current definition used by the Civil Society Partnership Programme that ‘the aim of pro-poor policies is to improve the assets and capabilities of the poor’. This is in stark contrast to the once-off, top-down solutions of the central government. We believe that pro-poor policy processes are those that allow poor people to be directly involved in the policy process, or that by their nature and structure lead to pro-poor outcomes. Likewise, we accept that there can be no ‘blueprint’ for poverty reduction and that South Africa, like every other country, is required to ‘mix and match’ its own set of policies and processes which are appropriate to the context in order to achieve the goal of increased and sustainable poverty reduction.
We in the IFP have never had much faith in grand government-sponsored schemes that seek to spend the peoples’ tax money to control them and bind them in gratitude to the political party which controls the government machine. On the contrary, we want to set free the entrepreneurial spirit of the individual which is rooted in strong and aspiring communities. This ambition broadly taps into the Judeo-Christian belief in self-help and self-reliance where the individual, God’s unique creation, is the maker of his or her own fortune.
During my rounds in our constituencies, countless individuals – in Vryheid, Richards Bay and Cape Town – have whispered to me and recently even shouted from the roof tops one of the biggest government policy disappointments since 1994, namely the provision of housing to the previously disadvantaged. In the context of free enterprise democracies, home ownership is the ultimate aspiration of the hard-working individual. Latin American economist Hernando de Soto was not the first to focus on creating theoretical legal frameworks that empower the poor of the developing world by providing them with a new, comprehensive legal property system allowing them to turn their assets into capital.
If we are serious about reducing poverty – and we in the IFP certainly are, we must stop monopolising the pro-poor policies in the hands of government – whether national, provincial or local. Historically, South Africans have too much faith (the pun is intended) in the power of the government. Let us break free. Let us open the opportunity to contribute to our prosperity wide enough for anyone willing to participate. Let us invite the civil society and the Churches in particular to play a leading role in fighting poverty. If ever there was a ready example of the Churches’ evangelical and ministerial role, this must be it.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP