Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
8 April 2007

Zuma, the Constitution and religious intollerance

City Press reports today (no internet link) that Jacob Zuma has told worshippers of the Ethiopian Holy Baptist Church to challenge government laws that clash with the teachings of the Bible. He continued:

Church leaders should be able to tell government leaders if they are straying and their laws clash with the teachings of the Lord.

Mr Zuma did not mention which laws he thought clashed with the Bible, but obvious candidates are the Civil Union Act legalising same-sex marriage and the Termination of Pregnancy Act.

This is not the first time in the past few weeks Zuma has spoken to Church leaders and it is obviously part of Zuma’s charm offensive in his bid for the ANC Presidency. He seems to be scraping the bottom of the barrel though. First he met with Leon Schuster and Blou Bul Singer, Steve Hofmeyer, now with the Ethiopian Baptists. Who’s next – Doctors For Life?

Of course, we do not live in a Christian state, so Mr Zuma’s exhortations to the worshippers seem perplexing to say the least. In our constitutional state public morality and ethics are based not on the values found in the Bible or the Koran, but on the values enshrined in the Constitution – the values of freedom, equality and human dignity.

In a constitutional democracy, laws must be based on the notion that we all have an inherent moral worth and that we all deserve equal concern and respect. When individuals act in a way that is demonstrably harmful to others (steal, rape, assault, kill, or coerce) then the state has a duty to act in order to protect innocent people.

But Mr Zuma really should know that in a constitutional democracy, the state cannot enforce some peoples highly contested, sometimes hateful and obviously harmful morality on all of us. This means the state is constitutionally prohibited from enforcing a specific Christian-inspired morality on us all. This is so, most notably because this kind of morality (not supported by all Christians of course) does not seem to respect the human dignity of all and seems all too eager to condemn those who do not fit in: the sex workers, atheists, gay men and lesbians, doctors who perform abortions, and any kind non-conformists.

Readers of this Blog only need to read some of the comments recently posted here in response to my post on sex workers, to be exposed to examples of the intolerance of some religious purists. (I do not delete such posts, first, because I believe in free expression and find the post mildly amusing and, second, because I believe such posts eloquently expose their authors as intolerant and less than respectful of fellow human beings.)

Now Mr Zuma seems to make common cause with such groups who do not seem to adhere to the values enshrined on our Constitution. It is not surprising, seeing that he has never shown much wisdom in choosing his associates – just think of his association with convicted fraudster, Schabir Shaik.

What is sad is that groups who should know better – like Cosatu and the SACP – still seem to support him. Are they that desperate to get rid of President Mbeki that they will continue to support a man who invites worshippers to undermine the Constitution? Time for a rethink Mr Vavi, Nzimande?

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