Politicians are targeting churches for electoral support

Panyaza Lesufi and leaders from various parties find common ground in faith. Picture: SUPPLIED

Panyaza Lesufi and leaders from various parties find common ground in faith. Picture: SUPPLIED

Published May 1, 2024


The African National Congress’ (ANC) Gauteng chairperson Panyaza Lesufi recently visited the Anglican Church of Southern Africa in Kagiso to canvass for votes and ask for prayers ahead of the May elections.

He used the occasion to encourage the congregation to vote and to continue supporting the ANC on their quest to govern beyond 30 years.

This visit highlights Lesufi's calculated attempt to increase voter turnout and win over religious communities during a crucial election season.

Alongside him were senior ANC members, highlighting the party's strategy to engage religious groups for votes.

Political analyst Levy Ndou, from Tshwane University of Technology, explains the appeal of churches.

"Political parties use every chance to campaign and get votes. Churches are easy places to reach people since everyone is organised and believes in helping one another."

Despite these efforts, some criticise the sincerity of such visits.

"There are always rumours that politicians don’t go to church until it’s election time," says Ndou, highlighting a common scepticism.

Another political analyst, Professor Sipho Seepe, said politicians abused the church.

"The abuse of the church for political groups is not new. This time around, the stakes are high. Hence, the desperate attempt to woo voters," he noted, emphasising that churches should resist being exploited by politicians.

But the ANC is not the only party campaigning or seeking divine votes, the Democratic Alliance (DA), Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), have all used similar tactics to increase their support and visibility.

The DA actively seeks support from religious communities, similar to the ANC. For instance in February last year, the DA led by their KZN provincial leader Francois Rodgers, visited the Nazareth Baptist Church (Shembe) in KwaZulu-Natal, which has over four million followers.

Seeking blessings for the upcoming elections, Rodgers highlighted the need for change, especially to address gender-based violence.

The DA also donated two cattle to the church.

This visit is part of the DA's strategy to engage influential religious groups and appeal to diverse voters in crucial electoral regions.

Likewise, the EFF and their leader, Julius Malema, frequently engage with church congregations. Malema was seen attending Moria's first Easter pilgrimage since the Covid-19 pandemic on March 31, accompanied by his wife, Mantoa.

This public appearance comes as the country gears up for the upcoming elections, highlighting the significance of such events in political campaigning and community engagement.

This common practice highlights the important role that religious institutions play in South African politics, providing a vital platform for political participation from a variety of backgrounds.

The IFP, with a strong base in KwaZulu-Natal, has long included visits to churches in their electoral strategy, especially engaging with Zulu congregations and traditional leaders.

Recently, INkatha Freedom Party's Deputy President Inkosi Mzamo Buthelezi visited New Beginnings Bible Church in Durban, as highlighted on their official Instagram page.

He spoke about the importance of church leaders in nurturing spirituality.

This visit is part of the IFP's strategy to connect with churches in KwaZulu-Natal, especially with Zulu congregations and leaders, to strengthen their support in the region.

Their presence in churches often coincides with discussions on community development and traditional values

Northern Cape Premier Zamani Saul was also seen canvassing votes at a Zion Christian Church at the weekend as he took part in that churches choreographed moves.