The Methodist Chaplain-General of South Africa's ruling African National Congress has been withdrawn from officiating at the party's celebrations on January 8 and is facing discipline from his church after coarse comments about women were recorded and leaked online.
Rev Dr Vukile Mehana was recorded discussing the robing of men by women with Methodist church member Raymond Sibanga, referencing Rev Nompithizelo Sibhidia. Sibanga said he had asked him whether it was appropriate for female ministers to robe members of the Methodist Young Men's Guild, a mission organisation, as part of their commissioning, and had recorded him without his knowledge.
The issue has been seriously debated in the church as part of a continuing discussion about the role of women.
In the recording, Mehana can be heard saying: 'Leave the books but what would you say being touched in your chest by women? That is what I am asking. What are these men's wives saying when this big-breasted woman is fondling men's' chests?' According to Mehana, men who had been ordained by a woman should be 'recalled' so that a man could 'reaffirm' them.
"I'm an African theologist. I don't care whether you call it patriarchy, or you call it gender insensitive, or whatever rubbish you want to call it. There's no man that has ever been fondled [ordained] by a woman.' Voetsek! ['Get lost!] This should not be allowed in the church,' Mehana told Sibanga.
His comments were condemned by the South African Council of Churches, whose general secretary Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana said that Mehana's views on women in the church were 'misplaced'.
'For him to disparage women ministers to the extent of referencing women's breasts, is absolutely disgusting and must be condemned unequivocally,' said Mpumlwana.
The Methodist Church of Southern Africa said it 'noted with dismay the blatant disrespect and portrayal of women who are characterised in a dismissive, humiliating and degrading caricature'.
'The objectifying of the anatomy of women and its link to culture and religion is not only unacceptable, but also equally distasteful,' it said.
The ANC Women's League also condemned the comments made by Mehana and urged the various companies on whose boards he sits to consider the 'reputational risk' of continuing to employ him. It urged that Mehana be 'stripped of his responsibilities within the Methodist Church pending the outcomes of the internal processes'.
Mehana has apologised for his remarks, saying: 'In retrospect, the comments I made were derogatory and demeaning to all women in ministry. I regret making such utterances and respectfully retract them.' He apologised particularly to Sibhidia, saying: 'I am deeply sorry that her good name has been sullied undeservedly.'
Sibanga said: 'The audio was not randomly and intentionally sent to tarnish the name of Rev Mehana nor of female ministers of our church, but it was sent responding to a question on robing of YMG members. I profusely and unconditionally apologise.'