Opinion Piece

Onkgopotse JJ Tabane: Dear ‘Bishop’ Ramalaine: Let’s Talk Frankly

I always thought that in the rich context of South African civil society activism, and given your background as someone who supposedly graduated from an institution like the University of the Western Cape – the intellectual home of the left – it would be totally unnecessary to explain the prophetic role of the church in the politics of our dynamic society. But here we are. You decided to join Professor Sipho Seepe in insulting yet another man of the cloth because they dared do their God-ordained task of giving counsel to a leader of our country, Cyril Ramaphosa.

Bishop Ramalaine, your disdain for Cyril Ramaphosa, which is so glaring from your multiple columns in the Sunday Independent – the only paper where you seem to be able to publish anything – ahead of the ANC conference, so blinded you that you, a man of the cloth of sorts yourself, did not mind suspending your theological understanding of the role of the church in society just to continue the denigration of Ramaphosa, using Bishop Peter Storey as a proxy.

Frankly, there is nothing wrong with the letter that Bishop Storey wrote to Ramaphosa (via City Press newspaper) giving him advice about how to tackle the mammoth task of taking this country forward and expressing his view about how Ramaphosa’s terrible predecessor ran the country down. Your pathetic piece in the Sunday Independent last week, in which you seek to embark on some sort of theological revisionist crusade through discrediting your fellow clergyman, is so low that it is the stuff that confessionals are made of. One hopes you will repent of it all.

According to your theological self, in order for Storey to preach to Ramaphosa he must be without sin – the church must now shut up in the face of societal maleficence. The scripture that says let no one claim to be without sin lest they are devoid of grace has escaped you completely. The big question you need to answer is whether, when the church took on apartheid evil, it was perfect then? So what has changed now other than the fact that you are hell-bent on turning a blind eye to the moral depravity of Jacob Zuma and his cronies and can’t stand someone like Storey, who has no qualms about pointing this out so clearly.

Now let’s briefly deal with some of your hollow arguments:

Listing other people who must be criticised as a precondition to prophesy

During the anti-apartheid struggle, when the church spoke truth to power and focused on poor governance and disenfranchisement, there was no assumption that business and civil society leaders had no case to answer. I can imagine that the likes of Desmond Tutu could have taken their venom elsewhere in society. Maybe that is not what he was called to do? Fast-forward to today: why should Storey not be able to assess Zuma’s moral depravity without being expected to make a long list of other criminals in our society? What has changed, Bishop? Every Sunday priests around the world choose a theme around which they seek to minister – they don’t have to rattle off everything from Genesis to Revelation in an attempt to achieve a fake balance.

The criticism of Storey’s call to Ramaphosa to ‘do something about Zuma’

You try too hard to rubbish this call, a wish of many South Africans. Men of the cloth often reflect what would be good for society. For Ramaphosa to pursue Zuma’s early exit does not, as you poorly argue, “turn the ANC into a dictatorship”. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Ramaphosa showing leadership in that regard, as any true leader should. Zuma himself exercised firm leadership over the ANC over the last decade, creating paralysis and inertia cloaked with moral depravity. I don’t see why Ramaphosa is expected to fold his arms, instead of taking leadership to ensure that the ANC does not end up in the opposition benches. I fail to see what is so sinful in Storey, and Makgoba for that matter, urging the ANC to get rid of Zuma as soon as possible – if this will contribute positively to the electoral fortunes of the ANC. Your spin on this one is terribly hollow.

Your criticism of Storey’s call to respect the judiciary

Bishop Storey made the correct call to Ramaphosa to ensure that under his administration there must be respect for the judiciary. Every sensible observer knows that Zuma’s tenure was littered with frequent run-ins with the judiciary. But since you are drugged with amnesia, it’s worth repeating for you that Zuma was found by the highest court in the land to have violated the Constitution and his oath of office. Various courts have labelled him irrational and many of the actions of his government were struck down and set aside. You only have to remember the wrongful appointment of Menzi Simelane; the wrongful extension of the term of office of the Chief Justice and the attempted shortcut to the withdrawal from the ICC, to have your memory jogged about how the Zuma administration was synonymous with the undermining of the rule of law.

Needless to mention the fact that courts have frowned on his attempt to stop the Public protector’s report from being published – all of these and many more, surely even in your scrapbook of factional defensiveness, must mean that Zuma has a disdain for the judicial system? How therefore is it so wrong for Bishop Storey to plead with the new ANC president to ensure respect for the Constitution? Surely even you should concede that the ANC allowed Zuma to run roughshod over the judiciary regardless of the meaningless pronouncements they often make? Have you forgotten so easily that Gwede Mantashe called judges counter-revolutionary? So what is so sinful for the man of the cloth to caution Ramaphosa about respect for the judiciary under him?

I can only conclude that these interventions are part of your pre-Nasrec smear campaign and a desperate attempt to rewrite Zuma’s hollow legacy. It is sad that you think you can use the church’s sins to embarrass genuine men of the cloth into not fulfilling their calling. You can’t possibly consider this intervention a serious contribution to public discourse?

Our country has lost its moral compass and interventions of the likes of Bishop Storey and Thabo Makgoba are crucial as we try to rebuild what the likes of Jacob Zuma have destroyed. No one needs not be perfect to play such a role. Instead of rubbishing them for pointing out what is wrong, you should be joining them to increase the voices of those that do not defend theft wherever it occurs in society. I hope this letter will help with your much-needed confessional. As a fellow man of the cloth, Bishop Storey deserves an unconditional apology from you. Your insults to him are a disgrace to the church and its role in society.

Yours Frankly... DM