Though Shalt Not Steal (too much)

David Bullard assesses the ANC's observance of the Ten Commandments


Years ago when I still lived in Johannesburg I attended a breakfast meeting with a listed company client in Sandton. As I was leaving the meeting later in the morning a very shiny Rolls Royce Phantom drew up at the swanky entrance to the building and two large African gentlemen in very shiny suits, one wearing what looked like crocodile skin shoes, got out of the back of the Rolls.

Now, I had been fortunate enough to be the first SA motoring journalist to drive the Rolls Royce Phantom when it arrived in the country in 2004. I had been invited down to the polo at Plett just after Christmas and the Rolls just happened to be there, so I just happened to drive it. One of the many features of the Rolls Royce Phantom are what they call the ‘suicide’ doors at the back. These are doors that open backwards and they got their name because if the rear seat passenger had got out of the car and the car started moving forward while the door was still open then it was generally bad news for said rear seat passenger.

In fairness, that probably wouldn’t have happened to any Rolls Royce owners but in those wild, post war, pre health and safety check days even the good old suburban Rover 90 had suicide doors and I imagine many a mother in law met her fate that way. As one might expect from the German owned company, the Rolls now has a fail safe system whereby the car cannot move unless both the rear doors are closed.


Another feature of the Rolls Royce Phantom is the extremely wide C pillar. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, the C pillar is the vertical bit between the roof and the body of the car just behind the rear door window. The benefit of a wide C pillar is that when you sit back in your rear seat nobody can see you which is ideal if you want to maintain a low profile for some reason. Personally speaking, if I owned a Rolls Royce Phantom I would want everyone to know but I am a bit vulgar like that.

Since the Rolls Phantom had a basic price of around R4.5 million back then I was intrigued to know who these two gentlemen were. My client couldn’t tell me too much about them other than the fact that they had started a church in South Africa and were now casting around for potential BEE business opportunities, no doubt to swell the church’s coffers and help uplift the poor.

As the strangely named L Ron Hubbard said before wisely following his own advice “You don’t get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich start a religion”.

But it doesn’t always end happily. In 1879 the Church of Christ, Scientist was founded in Boston, Massachusetts by one Mary Baker Eddy. We had one near where I grew up in England and I always had this image of JC in a white lab coat playing around with Bunsen burners, pipettes and test tubes. The core belief of the church in its heyday was that prayer would cure all sicknesses and that hospitals were for wimps and non-believers.

Possibly one reason that the church’s popularity declined was that many of its members died because they refused to be treated for illnesses. In the 2003 financial year they posted a loss of $8 million and in 2005 the church started selling off property in Boston. So if you’re thinking of starting a religion make sure you don’t come up with any crazy ideas which will kill off your parishioners and negatively affect the collection plate on a Sunday.

Last Sunday the President called for a National Day of Prayer to help the country to heal and overcome the coronavirus. For the past seven weeks I have been praying for access to a bottle of whisky and since that prayer was answered I thought I might have another crack at this prayer malarkey. So this time I’ve prayed that this has all been a bad dream and I’ll wake to find that the ANC hasn’t bankrupted the country, that we aren’t in junk status and we are set for at least 4% growth this year.

What did intrigue me though was the ANC’s sudden enthusiasm for religion. I’ve never really considered the ANC a religiously inclined movement and I suspect a quick check of the ten commandments (the Moses version rather than the Karl Marx version) would score an epic fail in their observance stakes.

Lets concede the bit about not having other gods. The same goes for observing the Sabbath, the graven images thing (effectively a statue ban and so Old Testament), honouring your father and mother, and taking the name of the lord in vain, particularly on social media.

However, the “thou shalt not steal” commandment is a bit of a bummer for any organization claiming to embrace religious practices. Maybe the devil is in the detail and the two tablets handed down on Mt Sinai had some T’s and C’s at the bottom which allowed you to steal a certain amount and no more.

Much the same applies to the “thou shalt not kill” commandment and I doubt whether there is a waiver saying that killing is fine if a guy is having a beer in his front yard and asking for it.

We may as well chuck out the “thou shalt not commit adultery” one as a lost cause just as we can safely ignore the “bearing false witness against your neighbour”. When that ends then it’s the end of social media as we know it today.

The real problem comes with the “thou shalt not covet” one though. Exodus 20:17 says …. “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house, or his wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that is your neighbours”. That really throws a potential spanner in the works as far as EWC is concerned although I’d be quite happy to get rid of my ox and donkey and I’m not asking a high price.

So allowing for a bit of cultural diversity the ANC score a poor 5 out of ten which is admittedly considerably higher than the matric pass rate in this country. Whether the good lord was listening last Sunday remains to be seen. My guess is that, as the foremost celestial ratings agency, he despaired of us long ago and handed us over to the not so tender mercies of a gangsta rapper called B.L. Zeebub.