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S.A. churches denounce government spying: The Church of England Newspaper, Oct 28, 2011 p 6. November 1, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Southern Africa, Church of England Newspaper.
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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Church leaders in South Africa have denounced the government of President Jacob Zuma for its attempts to spy on the country’s faith groups and turn them in to vassals of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

On 18 Oct 2011 the National Church Leaders’ Consultation issued a joint statement saying they “resent the efforts” of the ANC’s chief parliamentary whip Dr Mathole Motshekgato muscle in on and manipulate Church Leadership Structures.”

However, the chief whip’s office rejected the charges as being “absurd,” saying this was “nothing but a storm in a teacup.”

“We are leaders in our own right and lead by Biblical mandate,” the leadership council said, stating they were “deeply offended by efforts by [Dr. Motshekga’s aides] to infiltrate our meeting in Johannesburg without invitation.”

“This is an unwarranted intrusion on our discussions and compromises our freedom of association and of religion,” they said, noting “Dr Motshekga does not enjoy our confidence” and should “back off.”

The consultation is an umbrella organization comprising the leaders of the South African Council of Churches, and the Anglican, Catholic, Reformed, Evangelical, Independent and African churches in South Africa.

The Chief Whip’s office responded that theaccusation stems from an innocent mistake today, in which the Chief Whip’s Political Advisor mistakenly walked into the hall where the National Church Leaders’ Consultation was meeting. The meeting, which the Political Advisor was due to attend, happen to be taking place at the same venue” in Johannesburg.

The Chief Whip’s office added that “after being informed by the chairman of the meeting that he was in the wrong hall, he duly apologised for the confusion caused and proceeded to the next hall, the correct venue for his meeting,” adding that “walking into the wrong meeting is a simple mistake that anyone can make.”

“We are therefore taken aback that the church leaders are turning this little, innocent incident into something major,” Dr. Motshekha’s spokesman said.

However, Cardinal Wilfred Napier told the Associated Press that three of Dr. Motshekha’s aides were discovered rifling through the church conference’s papers when they were discovered. “This is direct interference by a political party in the affairs of the church,” he said.

Long a supporter of the ANC’s leadership, relations soured in 2008 when the South African Council of Churches attempted to mediate the internal ANC leadership dispute between President Thabo Mbeki and then Vice President Jacob Zuma.  During the leadership struggle, Mr. Zuma moved away from the South African Council of Churches after he accused them of backing his rival.

The break also came in a transition in leadership among the country’s churches, with alliances formed during the anti-apartheid era between the ANC and churches superseded by a new generation of leadership.  The current generation of leaders has challenged the government on social and economic policies, and no longer gives their automatic support to the ruling party.