If any proof were still needed that South Africans are a deeply religious people, then Sunday’s mammoth interfaith gathering at the FNB Stadium was the evidence.
The stadium was transformed into a sea of blue, yellow, green and an assortment of other colours as thousands upon thousands of worshippers gathered to pray for peace and an end to corruption, among others.
The service was organised by the Motsepe Foundation, that fountain of charitable work that is increasingly making its presence felt in many areas of South African society – from sports to entertainment and education.
The congregants were not deterred by the intermittent showers, with exuberant worshippers also treated to performances from Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and Christian groups, who led worshippers in song.
Bishop Barnabas Lekganyane, the leader of the Zion Christian Church, which boast more than 10million members in South Africa and neighbouring countries, was in his element as he delivered his message.
But, before we celebrate the Christian revival, it isn’t so rosy. The rebound that we are seeing is happening in the evangelical and non-traditional churches.
The mainstream churches are undergoing a slump not seen in a long time. I once went to a mainstream church, whose denomination I will not mention to save them the embarrassment, and was surprised by what I saw.
What struck me as I walked in was the almost total absence of men. Why are black men staying away from church in droves?
Casting one’s eye abroad, I saw interesting stats earlier this month about attendances at Church of England services.
The number of people attending the Church of England’s Sunday services fell again last year to 722 000 – 18 000 fewer than in 2016 – continuing a trend seen over recent decades. They comprised 87% adults and 13% children under 16. On average, only 50 people attended a Sunday service.
To offset the dwindling numbers, the Church has launched a drive to reach people online, including through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.
Religious content in the form of videos, blogs and podcasts now reaches an online audience of 1.2million a month.
The Guardian said these sobering statistics follow a pattern of fewer people identifying with the church, or any organised religion.
Figures published by the British Social Attitudes survey in September showed that affiliation with the Church of England was at a record low, at 14% – and down to 2% among young adults. More than half the population said they had no religion.
Could this support the common but unscientific observation that the wealthier and more educated one is, the less one tends to find succour in religion?
For the 70 000-plus who gathered at FNB Stadium on Sunday, nothing could be further from the truth. For them God exists and performs His miracles.
Makgabutlane is an assistant editor at The Star