Taking Zion to Zion
The members of ZCC are known as faithful, moderate and hardworking. The doctrines of this church forbid smoking and drinking, and a strong emphasis is put on the Bible, especially the words of the prophets and fulfilment of prophecy.
The church is also very large, founded in 1910. It now boasts by some estimates as many as 15 million members. The centre of the church is based in Moriah, in Limpopo Province, where every year millions of its congregants gather on Easter and in September, to be part of church ceremonies and celebrations.
The centre of the gatherings is Bishop Barnabas Lekganyane, universally referred to as “His Grace”, who speaks to congregants through multiple translators. Other than on these occasions, the Bishop never speaks in public. Through their strong belief and identity as well as huge numbers, the ZCC is a key force sculpting the contours of moral life in our country.
Due to their strong theology, they are also connected to the Holy Land.
For many years Israeli ambassadors have been invited with other leaders, to attend ZCC celebrations in Moriah. Bishop Lekganyane has also regularly attended Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations at the Israeli embassy.
According to Ben Swartz, chairman of the South African Zionist Federation, “for these reasons it was decided to invite the ZCC to Israel through the South African Friends of Israel (SAFI), who do grass roots outreach work to the broader community”.
An initial meeting over the trip proved positive with interest from the church in undertaking an official tour “to spread the message of peace”. According to Mark Hyman, co-chairman of SAFI, “it took seven months of intensive work and engagement, including a trip to Moriah, to meet the Bishop himself, to put the tour together”.
After much preparation, seven members of the church and three members of the Jewish community, jetted off on a historic visit.
An important part of the tour was focused on sites of significance to the Christian faith. Visits included the Galilee, Bethlehem and of course the holy city of Jerusalem.
The delegation got the opportunity to meet with the Mayor of Jerusalem. They were impressed with the fact that the mayor works for a salary of one shekel a year and that he was bringing ideas from his entrepreneurial background to help run the city.
Reverend Emmanuel Motolla, the spokesman for the ZCC delegation, said that “it is good to see that the city is kept open and that all different religions are respected”.
The delegation spent time in a number of official meetings, including with representatives of government departments and President Reuven Rivlin. At the meeting, the President was presented with a silver ZCC star. The ZCC has never issued its stars to anyone outside the church. Rivlin thus became the first president ever to receive one.
Perhaps the most fascinating encounter occurred at the meeting of the South African embassy in Tel Aviv. The group was met by the South African ambassador, Sisa Ngombane who was honoured to host the Bishop.
There have been discussions in certain circles that the South African embassy in Israel should be closed. Rev Motolla brought up the issue during the meeting saying: “You know the minister (Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Department of International Relations and Co-operation) grew up as a girl across the road from me.
“I know her very well. But I must tell you that this place (the embassy) is our small piece of land in the Holy Land. You must look after it and not change it. And I am telling you, tell your minister, and you must tell this to your president and you must tell this to your deputy president.”
Besides some official meetings, the delegation also met with organisations that aim to help improve society at large. At the Israeli Agency for International Development Co-operation, known as Mashav, Ambassador Gill Haskel, said he would like to “craft a way forward in South Africa”. At Magen Dovid Adom the group learnt about emergency medical healthcare and met with Innovation Africa, regarding effective use of solar power in rural areas.
The ZCC has an official church greeting “Kgotsong”, meaning Peace be Unto You, to which the appropriate response is “Ayatend” – which means Let it Spread.
Hopefully the ZCC visit to Israel will be a first step in helping to spread peace, prosperity and blessings to all inhabitants in South Africa and Israel.
Benji Shulman is the executive director of the South Africa Israel Forum