From its first president, Dr John Langalibalele Dube, the ANC was baptised in the spiritual faith of Christianity. President Dube, like his father James Dube, was a pastor at Inanda Mission.
The advancement of president Dube led to him, in 1901, founding the Zulu Christian Industrial School (Ohlange) aimed at advancing his people in technical skills.
Gazing at ANC presidents, Rev Zacharias Mahabane to Chief Albert Luthuli, the history of Christianity comes out very strongly and coalesced with the ANC from the beginning. With this connection clear, however, the men of the ANC did not go about making the ANC a religious special interest group.
They kept the ANC pure as a vessel to advance blacks and their political rights Isaka ka-Seme, president Dube’s cousin, was also of strong Christian beliefs. His great influencer was Rev Stephen Pixley and in his honour ka-Seme adopted his last name to be known as Pixley Isaka ka-Seme.
Luthuli, the first South African to win a Nobel Prize for peace, got his leadership skills from church. Before his chiefdom and teaching career he became a Methodist Church lay preacher for a few years. Luthuli’s life changed while at Adams College.
He wrote: “Adams taught me what Edendale [college] did not, that I had to do something about being Christian, and that this something must identify me with my neighbour and not disassociate me from him…” Luthuli did not seek the involvement of the church when he felt the ANC’s armed struggle would be against his personal or moral beliefs Tuesday 12 3 May 2016 as a Christian.
The church, too, did not seek to interfere with internal machinations of the ANC, it instead prayed and did not ordain itself an inter-partisan influencer. It bothered the ANC that Christians were oppressing people whereas Christians are to spread the gospel of love, tolerance and forgiveness.
This love, tolerance and forgiveness found itself at the centre of the country’s transition from the brutality of apartheid into democracy as Archbishop Desmond Tutu was called upon by the ANC to lead South Africans into forgiveness and reconciliation.
Although Christianity has made its mark in the ANC, it never sought to muscle into ANC proceedings, processes and leadership choices. The ANC is understood to strive for a broad church uniting in solidarity with Hindus, Muslims, African traditionalists and atheists etc.
Christians in and outside the ANC never saw themselves holding a special position to instruct the ANC as to its leaders or how its policies should be shaped. For instance, Sister Bernard Ncube and Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa were in the Mandela parliament that approved the Termination of Pregnancy Bill – and Mandela was not asked to step down by the church.
It is inexplicable why churchmen recently interfered so directly with a matter not harmful to the gospel – the minor contravention of earthly constitutional administrative law – with future implications if the law was challenging the gospel, the same men must rise up again to defend the same law they so gallantly spoke for. It must be duly asked whether hate and hardened hearts are what the church is today.