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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

13 Aug 1990: Motolla, Emanuel

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POM     You are in the Zionist Christian Church? Are you a member of the Executive Committee?

EM     That's right.

POM     My first question is, what accounts for the fact that the Zionist Christian Church is the largest Christian Church in South Africa?

EM     What makes this church the largest in SA is because it normally practises what it preaches. What I mean by that is we've got in our basic teaching that we should have the coherence of the individual churches, and among these people we feel that they've got to be aware that they respect one another as family. We even go beyond that where we find that some of the teachings are that alcohol, drinking, definitely brings down many lives of many people and we also discourage the problem of smoking as this normally affects the health of a person so much that ultimately many deaths are caused by this type of enemy. Now what leads me to say that it practises what it preaches, is that amongst distant church members, through some encouragement here and there, even if we have some in the church they ultimately end up by not smoking. That is the very, very first point.

     The second one is that this is a church which is very, very simple in the sense that the teachings themselves are not that complicated because it gets down to the grassroots of our own South Africans and that coming together of these people as one unit in the community is what makes it so.

POM     What are the main elements of the church's teachings?

EM     The main elements of the church's teachings are definitely all those which are named under the ten commandments and these very teachings are the very ones which we feel are attractive to our people, bring the people into our church. It is more that we practise them and not just preach them.

POM     What distinguishes the Zionist Christian Church from other Christian churches in SA?

EM     Basically I think I would start with one important issue, that it is just a Christian church like any other church, but what makes it quite distinct from the others is that it's leadership is normally all the same, a particular family, and that family the members have a reason why they feel they've got to have this family leading them into this type of lifestyle that they lead is that they are from a disciplined family and this family, disciplined as it is, they always adhere by the church norms, as I said, basically put into the ten commandments. What makes it again to be quite distinct is that people of this church love one another and there is no way where possibly one can pass through masses of people and as soon as he identifies a member of his own he feels it is necessary to say, "Good morning", to him, or whatever the case may be.

POM     The ZCC is not a member of the SA Council of Churches?

EM     It is not and it is not affiliated to any of the church organisations.

POM     Is there a reason for that?

EM     The reason as we put it is that the ZCC is South African origin and it is possible that somewhere else along the teachings of the South African Council of Churches there is somewhere where possibly our church may not be able to fit in.

POM     Now when you said the leadership of the church is taken from one family, so that His Grace's family in time, members of that family will become the head of the church?

EM     That's correct. Because of the discipline and the type of lifestyle they are leading it's pure Christian leadership, that's right.

POM     What are the church's teachings in relationship to communism?

EM     The church in its entirety rejects communism. One good reason, the first one would be that communism itself is an imported idea and an imported idea will definitely not be able to work in this country. Number two, I think any other person with average intelligence is aware that communism is crumbling throughout the world. Some tests have been done throughout Africa and it has absolutely failed. Again, we feel competition is very, very healthy in the sense that if communism is now introduced we will be definitely introducing a very, very lazy type of nation and ultimately with the warmth and the advantages of competition that you might get we are definitely not going to reap what some of our people will normally encounter in life.

POM     How has the ZCC then viewed the unbanning of the SA Communist Party by the government?

EM     The relative situation was very, very happy when the SACP was unbanned in the sense that it has long been kept in the cold and this whole keeping of communism in the cold was always seen as nothing else but full of suspicions that possibly the government is in a way suppressing what can help an ordinary man in SA. But since it has been unbanned we feel it's an advantage in the sense that people will be able to see the pros and the cons of this whole organisation and even be able to evaluate or compare the pros and the cons so much that at the end of the day they are able to see that communism itself is a monster that might bring up poverty throughout the country.

POM     Is the church concerned about the influence of the SACP on the ANC and the fact that if you had an ANC government there might be a lot of communist influence in it?

EM     Yes, we are concerned about the SACP within the ANC. But at the same time we are very, very positive in the sense that the members of the SACP and even the ANC are definitely South Africans and somewhere along the line we feel they will be able to see, because all the time they did not know what the SACP stands for. As time goes on they will be able to see what is good for them and what is not good for them and finally at the end of the day they will definitely reject it.

POM     I suppose what I'm asking is that the ANC appears to have a lot of very popular support and that if and when there is an election the ANC may be forming the next government or be in a partnership with other people to form the next government. Would the church be concerned about the fact that many senior members in the ANC are members of the Communist Party?

EM     I think that at the end of the day even those who are senior members of the SACP might, being the key members of the ANC, be able to see that communism is not going to work and they will definitely change their minds. I mean it will take time  for them to decide, so much so that by then I think all the communist blocs will definitely have crumbled and I don't think these people will still adhere to that policy.

POM     What is the ZCC's position generally in relationship to politics? Does it encourage its congregations to get involved? Does it discourage them or does it even forbid them to get involved in normal politics here?

EM     Let's just say it's totally a non-political organisation. I think before I answer that question I've got to give you this background. Among the church members all are divided in the whole political spectrum. In other words it's possible for us to have ANC members, PAC members, SACP members, UDF, and what is important is the church itself does not decide for these individual people to say you must go and be ANC, because we are aware that as soon as it does that it would therefore divide the whole church into individual factions. We feel what we are doing is nothing else but just to have prayer. These people can come to church as members of the church and not as members of individual political organisations. When they are together they are in a church and nothing else. To go further, the church does not have enough time to consider and tell the people and it does not even find it necessary to discuss politics. It is solely there for nothing else but prayers.

     Well I think that question is not among those but I think it's necessary for me to say that the prayers are quite general where we feel we pray for our own individual problems as members of the church. We again even pray for those who are in different sections of life or social life, that whatever good we are doing God should always be with us. The main thing is that we pray for those who are politicians to solve their problems amicably and in a peaceful manner. That includes some of the type of prayers that we normally have.

POM     Has the church ever taken a formal position on apartheid?

EM     Yes, I think we could start from this point that apartheid itself, the word is South African origin, and it means nothing else but separate endeavours for life and from that point the church has never ever taken a stand. The church itself is composed of all ethnic groups in SA. It stretches all the way from Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, all the provinces of SA, where we have the Zulus, the Xhosas, the Northern Sothos, the Southern Sothos, the Vendas, the Tswanas, and what have you.

POM     So the church has never taken an official position then on apartheid one way or the  other? It has never condemned apartheid as being against God?

EM     Apartheid has always been condemned by the ZCC. It has been condemned by ZCC and, as I said, the church normally practises what it preaches and to prove that it has condemned apartheid. That is why it is able to accommodate not an individual ethnic group to come into the church but it allows all members of any national group to be just members and this starts right away from the lowest level until the Executive Committee where you discover that all members are represented. As long as you've got expertise or leadership then you can be appointed into a church post.

POM     Has the church ever condemned apartheid explicitly as being evil?

EM     Definitely it has done that through nothing else but quoting from the bible that God himself does not allow apartheid. All men are equal before the Lord.

POM     So on the question of authority, what is the church's teaching on that?

EM     It is passed from the bible that authority has to be there. It has been there in th4e past; it is still here now, and it will exist for as long as man is alive. By so saying the church did not just point out that authority had to be respected even where malpractice or corruption is normally practised. And in this case we preach that there is authority where we feel the questioning has to be done and that where clarification is concerned you are allowed to do that. It should be authority with responsibility and accountability, failing which questioning is normally encouraged.

POM     In that regard would the church encourage its members to accept the authority of the state?

EM     It has to accept it to an extend. In other words where it feels some ill-treatment has been done we feel we have some rights to get what they want but in a peaceful way, amicably. It must not be confrontational but it should be in such a way that I mean a man has got to act, and definitely if you commit a mistake it does not mean that you are to be so much destroyed that your senses can never come back. Let authority be approached, but amicably.

POM     Could you give me an example of what would be an issue over which some action would be justified, where they would not have to accept authority?

EM     Let's take this case: you are employed in one individual institution and you have the same qualifications as a black man together with a white counterpart and somewhere along the lines you feel the amount of work I'm doing, the expertise that my counterpart has is about the same but at times I do better than he does. You think it is necessary then to approach your employer to say I feel I am badly treated. What we are discouraging is to go and mobilise and have a confrontational approach. We feel by approaching our authorities in such a way that they, as people, can understand the facts, is far better than a confrontational approach.

POM     So you wouldn't be in favour of the tactics used by the Mass Democratic Movement, confrontational tactics, sit-ins and marches, demonstrations, things like that?

EM     Definitely we believe in delegation. We might be 20,000 or whatever number, but amongst us we may pick up people who may go and present our own problems. In most cases what you've got to know is the human element is  almost everywhere. most able way where amongst yourselves you might be 20,000 but people who are genuinely born within the whole protest might be about 95%. You might have 5% that is the criminal element, someone who might be coming into the company just to exploit the people so that as soon as we have confusion they can let down and satisfy their lust.  So we feel by getting a delegation to approach the authorities, that is the best way.

POM     I'll read this statement to you because it's a statement that I read some place and I want you to comment on it. It says that the church's position is: - "If it is God's will that the government changes it will happen. It is not for us to do. We are out of the things of the world." Is this an accurate reflection of church teaching?

EM     Right, that is right. God is above the world, but the world is above everybody. We don't expect Him to come down and start doing things on His own but He works through people. What we know is that God loves us all so much, that we can help our own human lusts in many interests and whatever the case may be, but at the end of the day we are 100% sure that what happens finally is what God has decided must happen. What we otherwise normally envisage is that at the moment, where politicians are negotiating, whoever gives them advice, whoever guides them along the lines of negotiations, is nobody else but God. We might come together with a certain decision that we are going to decide like this, but it is possible that God might come and pick up one person who utters just but one statement and we might discover that this statement  is the very one that God wanted probably us to take. That is where we say our decisions are given decisions, but God's decision might come through just one or two people and that is what we care for and we cannot go and be against what God has decided.

POM     What has been the church's reaction to State President de Klerk's unbanning of the ANC and the SACP and the movement towards negotiations? What impact has this had on the church members and how does the church interpret it for its members?

EM     The church is 100% quite happy about the unbanning of all the organisations and it was quite happy about his own announcement. This was commendable, we even passed our message to the government that what has been done will be history of the State Presidency to come. What impact it has on the church members? One important thing is that I might be taking you to be an enemy of plus/minus 100 years as long as we stay in isolation, but when we come together and sit down we start to know and understand one another only to discover that we can be friends and we are friends. The impact that it has had is that everybody is starting to know what these organisations are, because they've always been elusive in the country and there's been little knowledge of what these organisations mean.

POM     Some years ago when PW Botha was State President, he was asked to address your church. Why would the church do that when to most blacks probably Botha was a symbol of oppression more than anything else?

EM     At that time we were in isolation, you're staying there and I am staying here, we might regard one another as enemies, but it is possible that you have just one difference that really makes you say, "That is my enemy." The main purpose of the church inviting the former State President was that we wanted to prove one point because the rest of SA is normally divided into homelands according to ethnic groups. We wanted to prove to him that it is possible for us to live together irrespective of my being a Zulu, or a Xhosa, or a Shangaan, or whatever, and we feel it was necessary for him to come to see how people of different groups can be together without the presence of a policeman, without the presence of the Defence Force or even a guard for security.

     So I think this really gave some dividends because it was immediately after he left that one of the laws of apartheid policy was removed, and the main purpose was that we wanted to prove to him that people of different ethnic groups can stay together.

POM     Many people say that the youth, a whole generation of children who didn't attend school and who are now getting to adulthood and who are unemployable and may never be employed, are like a tinderbox out there that could explode at any point. Does the church have a programme of reaching the youth?

EM     What is important is that the youth has to be guided and when you look at the youth who normally derive pleasure from protesting, from defying authority, from doing whatever he can do - I think that emanates from nothing else but being misguided. The duty of any organisation, be it a church or whatever, the truth is that the youth is the leadership of tomorrow. If we have the corrupt youth we're definitely going to have the corrupt of government in the future. The church believes that. In our own church what we do to guide our own children, is make them aware that the best weapon of life is education. Education is defined in many ways. We found that the best way of keeping our children busy, even after church, would be to probably organise them in things such as ordinary sporting activities or activities where we have different types of choirs. These could be secondary commitment after school and after church, this is why we feel the youth in our church really has the best guidance The church has a lot of children.

POM     What kind of values does the church try to teach its members, the values that make them good citizens, that make them socially responsible?

EM     The value of respecting your seniors. When I speak of seniors I mean from the smallest institutions, such as a family. The next immediate family would be schools and their own authorities, in the sense that in the family and at the school there is somebody to bring a child up to adulthood, not only the physical adulthood. We include in this whole thing the mental adulthood which must bring this child to maturity, responsibility and accountability and later on become a very successful parent of tomorrow - a successful citizen of tomorrow and who can have very good leadership.

POM     What would you say makes your church unique in relationship to its members compared to other churches who would say it teaches its people to follow the ten commandments? What is the particular feature in your church that attracts so many millions to follow it?

EM     Other than the ten commandments is that concept of 'we' feeling. What I mean by 'we' feeling is that togetherness which does not only end up in the church but even out of the church itself, these people can follow one another in individual families and try to help one another with ordinary problems. This whole thing will ultimately be reported back to the church authorities.

POM     Lastly, you draw members from all the tribes?

EM     All the tribes. At the moment we even have some whites in our church.

POM     Now many of these tribes believe in ancestor worshipping. Does the church subscribe to that?

EM     No, ancestral authorities are definitely condemned. What is important is the respect for the elders, taking care, for example, in your wife's family, when you talk about family you talk about your wife and three -  but with us it even extends up to four or five, whatever number of generations we might have, and it is in the church that we always show people that they have got to take care of their relatives.

POM     OK, thank you very much.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.