Jacob Zuma, Jesus, and Robert Mugabe

The DA on the ANC president's belief in his party's divine right to rule


Compare the following two quotes:

"God expects us to rule this country because we are the only organisation which was blessed by pastors when it was formed. It is even blessed in Heaven. That is why we will rule until Jesus comes back. We should not allow anyone to govern our city when we are ruling the country."


"[They] will never be allowed to rule this country - never ever."

"Only God, who appointed me, will remove me... Only God will remove me!"

If you are not familiar with either of them - and without revealing the source - they were both said recently by leading politicians, and both concern their author's respective political parties (and their respective opposition).

Were you to paraphrase each quote - strip each of its rhetoric and reveal its underlying sentiment - each one is fairly represented by the following sentence:

"Those that stand in opposition to me or my party are evil and must be opposed; for they stand not only in opposition to us but in opposition to God, who has appointed and blessed us as his representatives here on earth. Thus, my party will remain in power forever and it will not subscribe to the will of mortal men, because it rules by divine right and, therefore, until the end of time and at God's grace. Nevertheless, those who would oppose me or my party cannot be allowed to govern, irrespective of the broader democratic will, and we must stand together to prevent this from happening."

That represents a profoundly disturbing and fundamentally undemocratic contention and, certainly, a political philosophy incompatible with a constitutional democracy. Thus, it is deeply worrying that the first was said by the current ANC president, Jacob Zuma, and the second by Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe - the one a democratically elected president of a political party; the other a power-obsessed tyrant, who has run rough shod over the democratic will of the Zimbabwean people.

The obvious implications are dire: one should not oppose the ruling party; to do so is traitorous and, ultimately, a declaration of war; opposition and democratic elections are illegitimate and the central tenet of democracy - that the will of the people (as opposed to the will of God) be expressed in the nature of their government - is undermined.

And yet, the obvious undemocratic implications aside, if one digs a little deeper, Zuma's quote allows us to better understand several other recent developments.

That famous philosopher, A.C. Grayling said the following about the notion of governing by divine right:

"...the very phrase would seem odd, as denoting a deity's disposition of rights to mortal man or woman to rule a portion of earth, if belief in it were not an historical reality. It is surprising that those who invoked the notion did not see that it rested on nothing more elaborate than the primitive notion that might is right, for it is the deity's vast and inexorable power to punish and dispose that enforces the ‘right' of a king to rule by supposed dictate of what that deity wills."

In other words, the notion of governing by divine right is intricately linked to the idea that, ultimately, physical force will be used to impose that ‘right' - if not by the respective deity, then by those who supposedly represent its will on earth. In South Africa today, we are faced with a position where those aligned to Jacob Zuma have threatened to take up arms in his name - indeed "to kill" for him - a comment Zuma has failed to condemn. The threat of force is thus not some theoretical concern, but a very real option that lurks just below the surface for many of Zuma's supporters, and it is an option complemented by the ANC leader's belief that his party governs by divine right.

Another, perhaps more ironic, implication is that both quotes were made in situations or places where - despite being blessed by God - both respective ruling parties were in danger of losing power: For Zuma and the ANC - Cape Town (which he refers to as "our city") and the Western Cape and, for Mugabe - who has actually already lost control of the Zimbabwean parliament - the Presidency.

Obviously such a situation is almost impossible to reconcile with the belief that your party is endorsed by God. For how is it that the will of mortal men does not conform to the will of God? The explanation can only be one of two: either those that oppose the ANC are evil and un-Godly or, alternatively, that the ANC does not govern by divine right, but rather by the will of the people. Unfortunately, the second possibility is not one to which Jacob Zuma is willing to subscribe.

There is one final point worth making - Zuma's assertion is not only a message to those outside of the party but, just as importantly, a message to those within. The ANC is divided and riddled by factionalism, and it is vital for Zuma to impose himself on those that would stand in opposition to him within the ruling party itself. Just as the message to those outside the party is that they are illegitimate and stand on the wrong side of a moral and spiritual battle, so the message to those inside the ANC is: unite behind me and the party, for we are the chosen vehicle for God's will, and to disrupt that or oppose me is to stand in the way of the divine.

It is easy to dismiss or downplay the significance of Zuma's sentiments simply because, when you identify them in such stark terms, they become almost surreal. But that would be a mistake. As the selection of quotes below demonstrates, Zuma's assertion is not a once-off aberration, but a frequently repeated conviction. He believes what he says as, no doubt, does Robert Mugabe, and the implications for our democracy are dire.


2003: On being blessed:

"I arrived from Jordan this morning just after 5 o'clock... I must say I took advantage of being in Jordan to go to the River Jordan where Jesus was baptised - I was around there. Jericho and Jerusalem were just across the Dead Sea. So, if I look at anyone, he or she will be blessed." (HANSARD; [24 June 2003]; Column 347.)

2004: On who God supports:

"[Those who vote for the ANC will be] blessed on earth and heaven (sic)" (Sowetan; [5 March 2006]; "ANC voters will be blessed - Zuma".)

2004: On how long the ANC will rule:

"The ANC will rule South Africa until Jesus comes back." (Business Day; [15 March 2004]; "ANC will rule SA until Jesus comes back, says Zuma".)

2006: On why he is like Jesus:

In an interview with a newspaper, Zuma states he is "like Christ", that the media and his detractors wanted to nail him to the cross like Jesus, and that certain newspapers had sought to "crucify him". (Sowetan; [24 March 2006]; "I'm like Christ - Zuma".)

Following Zuma's comments, many of his supporters embraced the comparison, carrying signs which read "Zuma is Jesus" and asking "Why are you crucifying Zuma?" - as they protested outside the court where he was appearing on a charge of rape. One supporter carried a wooden, home-made crucifix bearing a picture of Zuma with outstretched arms.

2007: On how long the ANC will rule, again:

"That is why we believe [the ANC] will be in power forever until the son of man comes back." (SAPA; [27 October 2007]; "ANC ‘will be in power forever' - Zuma".)

2008: On who God thinks should govern South Africa in general, and Cape Town in particular:

"God expects us to rule this country because we are the only organisation which was blessed by pastors when it was formed. It is even blessed in Heaven. That is why we will rule until Jesus comes back. We should not allow anyone to govern our city (Cape Town) when we are ruling the country." (Cape Times; [5 May 2008]; "‘ANC to rule until Jesus comes back'")

This article first appeared on the Democratic Alliance weblog "The Real ANC Today" June 29 2008