London, Feb 8 (ANI): South African President Jacob Zuma has been heavily criticised by religious groups after he claimed voting for his party would help supporters get to heaven.
The African National Congress leader has been accused of blasphemy after the remarks he made during a rally in Mthatha in the country's Eastern Cape province.
Zuma, a Zulu and self-professed Christian, told the crowd of supporters they risked going to hell if they failed to back his ANC party at local elections later this year.
"When you vote for the ANC, you are also choosing to go to heaven," the Daily Mail quoted him as saying in Zulu.
"When you don't vote for the ANC you should know that you are choosing that man who carries a fork, who cooks people.
"When you are carrying an ANC membership card, you are blessed. When you get up there, there are different cards used but when you have an ANC card, you will be let through to go to heaven," he added.
But the country's main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, has branded his comments offensive and called for him to apologise for breaking the distinction between church and the state.
"Ordinary South Africans of all backgrounds and creeds will find the president's comments offensive and unacceptable," the Daily Mail quoted the party's leadership as saying in a statement.
"His words are incendiary and dangerous, in that they seek to mobilise along religious lines, and so seeds of division in our communities.
"Indeed, this is an act of shameless political and religious blackmail - the sort of political skulduggery that may be the norm in autocracies, but that should be anathema to our constitutional democracy."
Theunis Both, leader of the Christian Democratic Party, said: "The appalling tendency of Jacob Zuma to use religion as an instrument of intimidation to coerce people into voting for the ANC borders on blasphemy."
The United Democratic Movement added: "The UDM views this as a serious matter; the president is the custodian of the country's constitution.
"Such careless statements are in direct opposition of the freedom of expression and freedom of association guarded by our constitution.'
The ANC has, however, backed Zuma by claiming his remarks were not blasphemous because they were meant 'figuratively'.
Party spokesman Jackson Mthembu said: "The figurative weekend expression by the president remains figurative and metaphoric.We are, therefore, in agreement with the president that not voting for the ANC is tantamount to throwing your vote in hell." (ANI)