Controversial Bishop Marcelo Crivella, an evangelical pastor, gospel singer and former mayor of Rio de Janeiro, will apparently not become Brazil’s next ambassador to South Africa as he and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro originally hoped.
The diplomats said Daily Maverick which Pretoria refused to grant”approval”, or official endorsement, for Crivella to get the job. It is rare for a country to decline approvalthis therefore seems to indicate how strongly the South African government disapproved of Bolsonaro’s initial choice.
Other diplomats said Bolsonaro may have changed his mind for different reasons. Brasilia is expected to announce another ambassador soon.
Crivella’s critics suspected that he only wanted Pretoria’s work to advance the interests of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG). Led by Crivella’s uncle, Bishop Edir Macedo, the Pentecostal church has a large but troubled presence in southern Africa.
And those critics in turn said right-wing populist Bolsonaro only wanted to give him the job to help build political support for Crivella’s UCKG and Republican Party, especially as he faces a difficult re-election on October 2.
The latest opinion polls show that the former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva winning between 43% and 46% of the vote in the first round of the presidential election, compared to 31% to 32.7% for Bolsonaro, with the other candidates remaining in single digits.
Lula of the Workers’ Party was president of Brazil from 2003 to 2010, but was convicted of corruption and imprisoned in 2018, which left him out of the presidential race against Bolsonaro that year. Last year a judge cleared him of corruption charges, freeing him to run this year.
The usually highly professional Brazilian diplomatic corps was thought to be horrified by the likely appointment of Crivella, which they feared would be bad for Brazil’s interests. He would have replaced veteran career diplomat Sérgio Danese, a former ambassador to Argentina, who had only been in the post for a few months when news emerged from Brasilia that Bolsonaro wanted to put Crivella in the post. Danese obviously chose not to wait to see what would happen. He was appointed ambassador to Peru late last year, leaving the post of ambassador vacant.
Crivella, a senator and former fisheries minister, was arrested in December 2020, days before leaving Rio de Janeiro city hall, after being defeated in the election. He was accused of leading “a well-structured and complex criminal organization”. Crivella denied the charges, calling them “political persecution”.
It is possible that this criminal case influenced Pretoria’s apparent decision to refuse Crivella approval. However, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation did not respond to a request for confirmation that South Africa had refused approval.
The approval protocol, in which a country seeks private endorsement for a prospective ambassador before publicly announcing the name, allows the country to save face if their nominee is rejected, as they can plausibly deny that they were ever considered a anyway.
The UCKG is headquartered in São Paulo and has many temples and millions of followers around the world, many of them in South Africa and several other African countries.
A diplomat said Daily Maverick that the basic business principle of the UCKG was to “persuade the gullible poor to give their money to buy a place in heaven”.
The church has come up against problems in some African countries because of his financial affairs and some of his religious practices which have been deemed “un-Christian”, “un-African” or even “satanic” – in part because of his exorcism rituals.
In 2020, the Angolan government of João Lourenço ordered the closure of several temples belonging to the church, accusing it of corruption, tax evasion and illegal export of money.
In 2019, around 300 Angolan UCKG bishops reportedly broke with the Brazilian leadership, accusing it of mismanagement and not being African enough.
Diplomatic sources said last year they believed Crivella wanted the Pretoria post to enable him to sort out the mess in the Angolan branch of the church and, more generally, to develop his business there and in other countries. other southern African countries, notably in Mozambique.
Brazilian journalist and analyst Cláudia Silva agreed, saying, “Crivella will only defend the interests of the Universal Church in South Africa and try to resolve the situation in Angola, where members of the Church have been expelled from the country. DM