Secular imaginaries within the African National Congress in South Africa

Why is it that South Africa has a secular and liberal state, even though its population appears to be mostly religious and socially conservative? This paper studies the African National Congress (ANC) which has dominated electoral politics in the country since 1994. I explore two questions. How is that, despite representing a religious-conservative electorate as a ‘people’s party’, the ANC has openly pursued a secular-liberal legislative agenda? And how is it that, despite pursuing a secular-liberal legislative agenda, the ANC embraces religious rhetoric in the public sphere? I investigate how ordinary ANC members understand the nexus of religion, politics, and the state. These members distinguish between what they personally believe to be moral from what they believe ought to be legal, and experience religious rhetoric in the public sphere as broadly inclusive. The paper explores three features of members’ views that buttress these beliefs: a focus on human rights, a national identity that embraces diversity, and a universalist approach to religion.