Members of the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) are an integral part of the South African landscape. With their distinctive silver stars and green broad hats, it is hard to imagine a Sunday going by when you would not see a group on their way to church or gathered devoutly in circles under trees.
Southern Africa’s largest Christian movement, the ZCC, has deemed its recent peace mission to Israel a “blessed success.” Benji Shulman of the South Africa Israel Forum, who helped put the tour together, and the writer of this article expressed “It was a real honour and privilege to help facilitate the church’s tour of the Holy Land. We hope that it will lead to many more opportunities for engagement.”
Reverend Emmanuel Motolla, the spokesman for the ZCC, said, “We were very happy for the ZCC to visit Israel and spread the message of peace of the Church. We were so impressed with the country and would like to see further enriching engagement.”
“Although the visit was too short, we learnt learned so much; and more important, what could be applied in our own country. The church is above politics and our aim is to improve the lives of people.”
For more than one hundred years, the ZCC has not been an affiliate of any organisation. “We are on our own as a church,” says Motolla of the church which was formed in 1910, two years before the African National Congress (ANC) was established in 1912.
One of the biggest and fastest-growing churches in Africa, some people are surprised to learn that the church boasts 16 million members.
Following a revelation from God in 1910, Lekganyane,
founded the church near Polokwane. Today, the church’s headquarters are at Zion City Moria in Limpopo, 50 km east of Polokwane.
This is now the headquarters and spiritual centre of the church, where, every Easter, the church hosts a pilgrimage that attracts over one million members.
Just think of the catering!
There are not too many churches in Africa or anywhere else in the world, that attracts such enthusiastic devotion to God.
Israel is honoured to be among the ZCC’s friends.
Land of Milk and Honey
The delegation to Israel toured many diverse parts of the country, naturally focussing on sites of significance to the Christian faith. Visits included the Galilee, Bethlehem and of course the Holy City of Jerusalem.
The delegation met with the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, who is married to Beverley, a South African from Johannesburg, and were “bowled over” that the Mayor works for a salary of one shekel (R3.89) a year, and that he was bringing ideas from his entrepreneurial background to help run the city.
Can you believe it, one delegate expressed:
“He goes to work every day for his city and takes home an annual salary of R3.89!”
“You can’t buy a carton of milk in South Africa for that!”
Reverend Emmanuel Motolla expressed that it was good to see that contrary what people might say outside Israel, “Jerusalem is an open city city where all different religions are respected.”
A major focus of the tour was understanding ideas from Israel which would prove to be beneficial in South Africa. Israel’s expertise and experience in so many areas was recognised and processed as to how it could positively impact in South Africa, “if only there was only the South African hand to grasp the hand reached out to us.”
Another highlight was a visit to the the Ben Shemen Youth Village, an agricultural boarding school near Lod.
The delegation met with senior staff members at the Youth Village, and was told about its history, viewed a video, and examined its historical documents archive, as well as items that belonged to Theoretical Physicist, Albert Einstein.
They also heard about the daily lives of the students from a young man who was originally from Johannesburg. They then took a “tractor tour” of the site including the fields, stables and dairy and had an opportunity to engage with the children in their accommodation.
The delegation visited the South African Embassy in Tel Aviv and met with Ambassador Sisa Ngombane, an engaging and warm representative from his country, who has done an outstanding job engaging with the South African community in Israel.
Our Spot in the Holy Land
Later this month, the African National Congress will be discussing if it should downgrade the South African Embassy’s status in Tel Aviv.
During the meeting with the ambassador Ngombane, Motolla brought up ‘The Issue’:
“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 to tell our Foreign Minister, (Maite Nkoana- Mashabane), our President (Jacob Zuma), and Cyril Ramaphosa, our Deputy President.”
Motolla also took some time out to speak to “The Source”, a Christian news program that reaches millions of viewers. He discussed the trip and what the ZCC sees the future relationship between South Africans and Israel.
The Healing Hand
The delegation visited the headquarters in Jerusalem of the Magen David Adom (MDA) – Israel’s version of The Red Cross – to understand how the emergency services works in Israel. Chairman of MDA South Africa and co-chair of South African Friends of Israel, Mark Hyman said that the delegation got a chance to closely examine the ambulances and the MDA’s control room. He revealed that the participants were impressed with the efficiency of the services and the innovation of the work of MDA in Israel.
But it wasn’t all hard work.
Sheer tourist delights included a special Friday night dinner in Jerusalem, and a trip to the famous desert fortress of Masada on the Dead Sea – the lowest spot on earth.
“It was amazing,” was the consensus of all the delegates.
Ben Swartz, chairman of the South African Zionist Federation and co-chairman of the South African Friends of Israel, said that he hoped the trip would herald a further cementing of ties between different South Africans and “the opportunity to work together for a better future for all people – both in Israel and South Africa.”
Who cannot agree with that.