Calling in that pastor in Port Elizabeth was a cheap move, DA

A loud reverend lecturing the 'naughty blacks' this morning and praying to save Trollip was excruciating to witness as Easter came early.

There was a moment just after 10am on Thursday when the speaker of the Nelson Mandela Bay metro’s council invited a pastor into the chambers to give a sermon and pray.

It was probably the last thing I was expecting to see, but then I suppose I’m not all that familiar with the day-to-day running of city governments in this country. Perhaps having men of the cloth dropping from the ceiling in moments of crisis to unleash volleys of Bible verses at warring factions is a pretty normal phenomenon.

From where I was sitting in Johannesburg, it seemed unaccountably bizarre. The country was waiting to hear whether the speaker, Jonathan Lamack, had made up his mind on whether the motion of no confidence brought against him and his mayor, Athol Trollip, was going to proceed and, if so, if it would be taken by secret ballot.

Things, however, had gotten out of hand. There was singing and dancing and a bit of a scuffle as opposition councillors demanded that DA leader Mmusi Maimane leave the chambers after he had taken his place to observe proceedings – supposedly as an “ordinary member of the public” – in the public gallery.

But we were made to wait as a middle-aged white man in a yellow tie lectured the gathered politicians on “the will of God” and being submissive to the chosen deity of Christians and what this creator figure supposedly wanted them to do that morning. I could only assume that, in his view, the God of Abraham wanted everyone to be more polite and less rowdy.

One of my colleagues informed me that this pastor’s claim to fame was that he had started one of the first multiracial churches in Port Elizabeth.

Clearly, in the DA’s view, this person should therefore have been accorded some form of authority to speak in council, but no matter which way I’ve tried to figure it, it seems like a cheap move.

It was also painfully uncomfortable to witness.

Firstly, South Africa is meant to be a secular state, with clear separations between church and government. When it comes to politics I realise politicians the world over have presented themselves as faithful believers, and South Africa is even more God-bothered than most countries, but I actually expected a somewhat higher standard from the DA. So the joke’s on me, I suppose.

Secondly, South Africa is a country of many religions, and likewise offers its citizens the freedom to reject all articles of faith. The assumption that everyone in that council wanted to hear the views of a pastor during a strictly political moment is an assumption that can’t possibly be defended.

Thirdly, having this man come in and speak in this way to grown men and women was little more than patronising. The supposed shield of a “higher power” was being invoked and the result was extraordinary. All the councillors just sat there like well-behaved primary schoolers waiting for the pastor to conclude as he in effect berated them for being naughty.

He prayed against the “power of the devil in this city”, among other things, with rather unflattering implications for those daring to oppose the mayor.

If it wasn’t for the fact that I actually believe the DA – with its leader who is himself an ordained pastor – thought this was all actually the genuinely correct, moral thing to do, I would even have gone so far as to suggest that there was a tinge of racism about the whole affair – especially considering that the portion of the House that needed to be put in its place was almost exclusively black.

“Oh, Sandra, you know how religious the blacks can be, you know?”

But no, I don’t think it was quite that bad, cynical as even I might be.

However, it doesn’t excuse the ploy because the DA has always described itself as a “liberal” party with classical liberal values. That post-Enlightenment political mind-set should have very little to do with religion. But perhaps the DA is still evolving into becoming ever more like the ANC, which often very much puts the church into its beloved label of “broad church”.

At the end of this morning’s pantomime, the pastor’s attempts to herald an early Easter came to an end, the squabbling from the politicians resumed and normal disorder in the chambers was restored.

As if anything different could have happened.

I certainly don’t know what Lamack thought all this preaching was going to achieve, considering the matter under discussion had nothing to do with whether any gods were in favour of any particular mayor this morning. Was he perhaps hoping that we’d believe that God wanted to save Trollip or that Trollip was God’s chosen representative? Either way, many saw it as desperate.

Who knows? But, hey, maybe that’s just me.

Citizen digital editor Charles Cilliers

Citizen digital editor Charles Cilliers

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