The events of the last few weeks in South Africa have spread like a cyber virus through the world’s press. The ill-considered words and immature leadership style of Baby Ju-Ju Malema, the ANC Youth leader, (whom the political cartoonist Zapiro always identifies by a dummy stuck firmly in his mouth), hit the international headlines when he threw a BBC reporter out of a press briefing. Calling him a ‘bastard’ and an ‘agent’, this outrageous and uncontrolled outburst finally led the ANC to strongly condemn Malema saying he will be disciplined. Actions need to follow words.
Of course the world press also had a field day with the violent murder of the right wing Neo-Nazi Eugene Terreblanche, whose death has been surrounded by many questions and scandals. In the aftermath of all this, the more sensationalist British tabloid press came out with equally outrageous articles about “machete gangs roaming the streets” of South Africa and that after AWB leader Eugene Terreblanche’s murder, a “civil war” could erupt, and that South Africa’s hosting of the 2010 FIFA World Cup is under “threat”. Probably the biggest threat to the World Cup at this point, is another Icelandic volcanic eruption with the resulting particles of rock, ash and glass swirling in the northern skies. South Africa has lots of problems but it’s sad how the more tabloid press can distort the realities.
It was a crisp autumnal day and suburban Joburgers were out there enjoying it all – cyclists, fellow dog–walkers, bird watchers, a couple of kids ‘skimming’ pebbles across the water from the bank of the ‘river’, and of course the usual drums and singing of the local Zionist groups of worshippers. South African Zionism (nothing to do with Jewish Zionism) owed much initially to a small handful of early 20th century Zionist missionaries from the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church, based in ‘Zion City’, near Chicago, USA. Among their first recruits were a disaffected Dutch Reformed minister in Wakkerstroom and Daniel Nkonyane of Charlestown, Kwazulu Natal who continued to evangelise after the Zionist missionaries left in 1908. Later Pentecostal or Apostolic influences strengthened the practice of divine healing (by prayer) as well as speaking in tongues. Answering to the need of migrant workers who were cut off from the social fabric of their homes and were alienated in their new urban context, the small close-knit congregations offered a sense of belonging and identity and a way of making the harsh urban conditions bearable. Gradually outward markers were introduced like the wearing of white robes and coloured sashes and the carrying of holy staffs. While the largest congregation is the Zion Christian Church with around 3 million followers, (who make an annual pilgrimage every Easter week-end to meet at Moria in Northern Province near Polokwane), there are literally thousands of small splinter congregations. The small groups meet in the open air, nearly always by water (given the importance of baptism by full body submersion in water.) The congregation dance in circles to the beat of drums and group singing. The leader of a group is often seen as prophet and there is a stress on faith–healing and revelation through dreams and speaking in tongues – encouraged and enabled often by the rhythmic drum beat and the wheel dancing.
Research has suggested that near 40% of all black South Africans belong to a Zionist church. This statistic and the atmosphere down at Delta Park suggest another picture from that described by the more sensationalist international tabloids.