Pastor Zupta Msholozi shares ‘gospel truths’ from National Assembly’s pulpit

He might have 700-plus fraud charges hanging over his head, has faced rape charges and helped captured the entire state, but there’s no faulting the efficacy of Msholozi’s political rhetoric. What Christian can say they don’t want the kind of economy that all South Africans can benefit from? To quote directly from Pastor Msholozi in parliament yesterday, “not others more, others less, or others not at all. Especially the poor – what a gospel truth!” It’s a pity hardly any of the opposition was there to juxtapose his behaviour with his preaching. One wonders whether their absence had to do with an increasing belief that Parliament’s’ Constitutional abeyance to the executive has rendered it ‘sub-optimal,’ to steal an all-encompassing expression from medical science, which is arguably more exact than political science. But then the man South Africa has grown fond of hating showed that he can be exact. In fact, he reminded his detractors that Radical Economic Transformation dates back to the ANC 2012 Mangaung Conference, where it was adopted as policy. He prefers the term ‘robust’ economic transformation, one he certainly is deeply familiar with. Except most of us believe his interpretation of robust means go-bust. – Chris Bateman

By Liesl Peyper

Cape Town – Christians can’t argue against the notion of radical economic transformation, said President Jacob Zuma in Parliament on Thursday. “It’s the gospel truth and I love talking about it like a pastor likes talking about the bible on Sundays.”

Zuma was responding to a debate on the Presidency’s budget vote that took place the previous day, and spent a considerable time explaining to largely ANC MPs in the National Assembly what government means by radical economic transformation.

South African president’s radical economic transformation. More magic available at www.zapiro.com

The opposition benches of particularly the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters were mostly empty and only a handful of opposition party members – such as those from the Inkatha Freedom Party and Freedom Front Plus – were present.

“Do you want clarity on radical economic transformation?” Zuma asked the IFP in particular. “The decision to implement this was taken at the ANC’s 53rd national conference in Mangaung in 2012. It’s a policy of the ruling party and it has come from someone’s head. It’s policy,” Zuma emphasised.

“People who are still in doubt should read the ANC’s resolutions taken there. It’s our duty as government to implement the policies of the ANC. And we are late. It should’ve been implemented in 2013 – immediately.”

Read also: Zuma plays ‘God’ card to push radical transformation. Copying Angus Buchan?

Zuma continued, saying the notion of radical economic transformation was again repeated at the ANC’s lekgotla in January this year.

Radical economic transformation in general means broadly accelerated socio-economic transformation, land reform and redistribution among other things, Zuma said.

“I’m sure everyone agrees that the structure of South Africa’s economy excluded the majority. The system was racially based. And that patterns of ownership are still in the same hand. The freedom is not yet completed. We want a kind of economy that all South Africans can benefit from. Not others more, others less, or others not at all. Especially the poor.

Read also: Open Letter: White SA faces adapt or die moment as ANC talks up radical economic transformation

“What a gospel truth!” Zuma exclaimed. “I know as a Christian you won’t disagree with this truth.”

Zuma said the economic component of its radical economic transformation programme has gained such popularity in the public domain that it is now known by the acronym – RET. “Robust economic transformation,” he said.

“South Africa should honestly accept this reality (of radical economic transformation). If we don’t deal with this we’ll stay for a long time with protests, and we who have everything are wondering why they are protesting. The question of us not having jobs is a man-made problem in SA,” Zuma said.

“If you take the land of other people and take their rights – then it’s you [who did that]. [Then it’s] man-made and it needs man to correct it. That’s what we’re doing. If that makes other people feel bad, it’s unfortunate.”

Is Zuma’s ‘radical economic transformation’ policy “gospel truth”?

By Philip Rosenthal*

Yesterday Thursday 1 June 2017, speaking in parliament, Jacob Zuma said “Christians can’t argue against the notion of radical economic transformation, said President Jacob Zuma in Parliament on Thursday. “It’s the gospel truth and I love talking about it like a pastor likes talking about the bible on Sundays… We want a kind of economy that all South Africans can benefit from. Not others more, others less, or others not at all. Especially the poor. “What a gospel truth!” Zuma exclaimed. “I know as a Christian you won’t disagree with this truth.” Zuma explained that ‘Radical economic transformation’ policy was adopted by the ANC at its Mangaung conference in 2012.  We must thank him for re-opening the debate on the Bible and economics.

Philip Rosenthal, director of ChristianView Network.

Is this economic policy un-debatable ‘gospel truth’?

‘Gospel truth’ in scripture refers to the core message which a person must believe and say to be a Christian and go to heaven.  Essentially, that Jesus, the Son of God became a man, died on a cross, taking the punishment in our place that we deserve for disobeying God, and he rose again to become Lord of everything including us.  By asking forgiveness for our wrongs, believing and saying “Jesus is Lord”, Christians believe they are united with Jesus in his death and resurrection, thus saved from eternal punishment (Romans 3:23,6:23,10:9).  

How does this compare with the resolutions of the ANC Manguang Conference? The belief that Jesus is Lord of everything includes our wealth and thus has economic implications.  That principle is ‘gospel truth’.  Nevertheless, state economic policy is a complex matter that must consider multiple Bible teachings written thousands of years ago in a different geographical and technological context.  For two thousand years, governments and economists have considered how best to apply those principles to their own current context.  No specific state economic policy can be taken as ‘gospel truth’.

Let us then compare the Manugang resolutions with Bible economic teachings:

In applying ancient economic law to our modern context, one must first ‘abstract’ the underlying principle from the command and then apply it specifically to our situation.

* “expanding the role of the state and the role of state owned enterprises”  The state created under the Law of Moses had probably the smallest central state government of any country before or since.  It had no state owned enterprises.  Just about all decisions were devolved to the lowest possible level – families and local municipal councils.  There was no centralised state army or police force, with these functions being handled by voluntary citizen militias.  This in contrast to neighbouring states of for example, Egypt with a massive centralised government.  Contrary to the Manguang policy, the lesson of history is that the state tends to consume more wealth than it creates – jobs lost in the private sector are more than those created by the large state.

* “duty bound to protect the livelihoods of the poor”  The Bible defines concentric circles of responsibility to help the poor.  Firstly those who can must work to earn money.  No benefits for those who can but refuse to work (2 Thessalonians 3:10).  Secondly, all must provide for their immediate family and then relatives (1 Timothy 5:8).  Then charitable institutions such as churches provide for those who can’t and don’t have family (1 Timothy 5:16).  Then the commands to set aside a portion of income to give to the poor and for employers to try create work opportunities for the poor rather than only for their own employees and profit.  In the agricultural economy, this meant allowing the poor to gather what was left behind in the harvest.  Comparative modern applications include making available goods for the poor to recycle or allowing space for informal trading.  Only after these multiple safety nets fail, does the state get involved.  Nevertheless, the Manugang policies do not consider the importance of strengthening the family as the primary safety net and redistributor of wealth.  Multiple state policies undermine the family.  The government can consider ways to encourage creation of informal work opportunities, and charitable giving.  On the positive side, the policy does encourage small business SMME “development of entrepreneurs providing productive inputs into the real economy.”

*  The policy blames “The global crisis of capitalism asserted itself with vengeance from 2008.” For loss of jobs.  While blaming capitalism, it fails to apply lessons from the world economic crisis of 2008.  Essentially, large institutions getting into too much debt, by being forced to lend money to the poor at high interest rates which they could not repay – lead to a ripple effect of bankruptcy.  The Bible includes multiple warnings against the dangers of debt and usury, which if listened to could have avoided this economic crisis.  Usury to the poor is forbidden.  At the time of the Reformation, Switzerland relaxed its lending prohibitions and became the banking capital of the world.  Nevertheless, in the Twentieth Century, lending policies relaxed further into massive government and institutional debt which inevitably leads to bankruptcy.  The Manguang policy while blaming ‘capitalist crisis’ will push South Africa deeper into debt, leading to exactly the same type of crisis requiring bailout.  (See my article on the Bible and the world economic crisis in 2008 https://goo.gl/f6OKou)

* “Replace willing buyer willing seller with the “Just and equitable” principle in the Constitution immediately where the state is acquiring land for land reform purposes… Expropriation without compensation…” The question of land can be looked at in terms of two separate Biblical principles: ‘private property rights’ and ‘redistribution of capital’.  The first is that of private property rights.  One of the Ten commandments is “You shall not steal”.  That can be applied to both historic theft of land, where it can be proven and to proposed future theft of land by expropriation without compensation.  Land claims investigations have attempted to rectify some historic injustice.  Nevertheless, there are complications.  Land has often been traded many times, original ownership is often unknown, people have moved, intermarried and the question of what date to set back to.  Ancient Israel’s Biblical law distributed land equally after the Canaanite conquest and required all land to be returned to its original family owners every 50 years.  That meant every family had access to agricultural capital.  But firstly, our modern economy is no longer based on small scale family agriculture and secondly we have no original date to fairly redistribute land back to.  The principle is thus better abstracted and applied to be giving each generation a chance of employment i.e. educational opportunities.  Such a policy would thus ‘steal’ from those who have invested capital in land, while a policy with compensation places an even burden on all taxpayers.

* “giving expression to this urgency:…a radical and rapid break from the past without significantly disrupting agricultural production and food security.” Historically, most countries, peoples and families and businesses that have moved from poverty to prosperity have done so over a few generations, rather than a through a radical state economic shift.  Such rapid interventions have generally created more poverty.  For example, South Korea devastated by civil war in the 1950s is now a technology hub.  One can see for example the old centre of Khayelitsha in Cape Town has risen from a tent town to well built brick houses and businesses, while the new outskirts are shacks.  For example millions of Jews arrived in New York penniless and only in the third generation become professionals with property.  The Bible, starting with the example of Abraham, teaches in multiple places the need for long-term inter-generational vision for a family, investing in education and saving capital for the next generation.  A long term plan may be frustrating in the short term, but it actually works.

Jacob Zuma must be thanked for raising the comparison of Bible teaching and economics, but needs to consider the principles of economics taught in the Bible further.

  • Philip Rosenthal is the director of the public advocacy group, ChristianView Network. 
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