Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The ANC and ruling "till the Son of Man comes"

It's strange how the wheel turns. Was it just yesterday when the South African Council of Churches was considered a hive of Communists and micreants by the government? Now I see that the Friends of Jacob Zuma Trust (in the form of spokesperson Brian Sokutu) is lambasting the organisation for "conducting itself as if they own Jesus Christ".

Now this is extremely interesting. Because, of course it is true that Jesus, per se, is not ownable. And it is also true that the churches, in all their various forms, individually and collectively, have never really been terribly successful at controlling the Jesus "brand". Compare the "Jesus" brand to, say FIFA's ownership of the Soccer World Cup and the churches come in a very pale second. In fact they come in amateurish!

I remember people of my parent's generation frequently saying that this or that wouldn't happen "till Kingdom come". A circumlocution indeed, meaning "forever", or at the very least until the whole thing gets wrapped up. Jacob Zuma's choice of phrase, this time - that the ANC will be in power "until the Son of Man comes" is itself a very curious phrase, about which there is a huge amount of theological debate. Jesus uses the phrase fairly frequently in the Gospels and the Gospel writers themselves seem to assume that the reader understands what it is all about. It probably is messianic in reference, though this is not always the case. What we do know for sure is that it is a phrase meaning "this man", at its basis. And through echoes throughout the ancient world, it comes to take on more messianic meaning as well.

Zuma could have chosen the circumlocution my parents used frequently - and it would probably not have got into the press. He didn't. Unwisely, or deliberately, he chose to use the much more technical phrase about the "Son of Man". But what was the point he was trying to make. Surely the simple (albeit unlikely) one, that the ANC should be enabled to be in power forever.

Now where people start getting uncomfortable, I suspect, is when Zuma himself starts to be made into a Christ-like (or Messianic) figure. In other words, the equasion comes to be "Zuma is like Jesus". Indeed, he is sometimes described even more precisely as Jesus himself, through depicting him on the cross, as the innocent victim etc.

There is nothing especially new in this. No less a Christian personality that Canon John Collins rescued a painting by Ronnie Harrison, called Black Christ, where Jesus is portrayed with the face of Chief Albert Luthuli - also an ANC leader, and secreted it out of the country.

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