Mpumalanga declares God the spiritual leader of province

by The Editor

FEATURE: According to the news publication Mpumalanga Today, Mpumalanga Provincial education MEC Reginah Mhaule has signed an agreement on behalf the provincial government dedicating the province to the Christian God and recognising him as the spiritual leader of the province. If the story is true, it is profoundly undemocratic and runs directly against the constitution, which defines South Africa as a secular state and confines the practice of any religion to a strictly private affair.

Mpumalanga declares the Christian God the spiritual leader of province

By: Gareth van Onselen

29 May 2012

Mpumalanga Today (a regional electronic news publication dedicated to the province) carries in it a deeply disturbing story today titled: “Mpumalanga declares the Christian God the spiritual leader of province”. Unfortunately there does not seem to be an online version of the story, to which I can link (Mpumalanga Today arrives by e-mail). The most important part of the story is the following section:

“MBOMBELA -It’s official: The Christian God is the spiritual ruler of Mpumalanga. Elected officials from both the Mpumalanga provincial government and the Mbombela local municipality signed a covenant over the weekend, dedicating the province to the Christian God and recognising him as the spiritual leader of the province. “God was acknowledged as the spiritual ruler of Mpumalanga and he was requested to rule over all of us. Leaders from government and business signed the covenant with God,” said Pastor Johan Putter, one of the organisers of the event. Provincial education MEC Reginah Mhaule addressed more than 300 churchgoers from across the Lowveld before she signed the agreement on behalf the provincial government. Councillor Busisiwe Mdhluli signed on behalf of the Mbombela municipality. Putter, who is also an employee of the municipality, said the church leaders in Mpumalanga asked elected officials along with business leaders to sign the covenant because together they lead society. “The church can’t do it on their own, which is why we approached our leaders to make this dedication to God. This is the Christian God and the God of the Bible. He is the spiritual leader,” said Putter.”

The South African constitution makes provision for anyone to practice their religion (so long as, in doing so, it doesn’t infringe on the rights of others) but on the nature of the South African state it is quite clear: the state is neutral. South Africa is a secular state. Not a religious one. In turn, the constitution sets out the principles and values by which our society is structured, not those contained or advocated by any particular religious belief system.

Section 2 of the constitution’s founding provisions states: “This Constitution is the supreme law of the Republic; law or conduct inconsistent with it is invalid, and the obligations imposed by it must be fulfilled”. Obviously, to recognise one set of religious beliefs as superior to this is to violate it.

This development is thus profoundly disturbing. No one can dedicate the state to a particular religious belief. Not only does it expressly violate the constitution, but it is profoundly undemocratic.

Under Jacob Zuma’s presidency, religion has been increasing infused with politics, certainly with the ANC’s political discourse. So far as the ANC goes, that is all well and fine, but the moment the government itself starts advocating for a particular religion, you are on a slippery slope indeed. No one religion holds any weight over any other, and to practice a religion is entirely a private affair – nothing at all to do with the state or government.

This decision by the Mpumalanga government is profoundly problematic and should be the cause for some very serious concern. It needs to be reversed. It appears too that the MEC had no mandate to do this. Even if he did, it would be invalid, but it appears this was one person acting without consultation or discussion. Someone urgently needs to give the Mpumalanaga government a lesson in the basic tenets of a constitutional democracy and what it means to be a secular state.

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