Hailed for development projects
Clergyman Zolani Stuurman, 36, is proving that a man of the cloth can make a difference in his community.
The United Presbyterian Church of South Africa pastor in Ixopo in southern KwaZulu-Natal was this week honoured for his "leadership and for being a true servant of God".
Two cows were slaughtered at the festivities.
Stuurman has led the war against poverty, HIV and Aids and other social problems that have burdened the impoverished area for the past decade.
He first went to the area as a young pastor in 1997.
Since his arrival he has run workshops and education on HIV/Aids in the area.
He has also initiated food programmes to feed the poor. He is now building an orphanage and community centre for the area.
He also assists the community to access welfare support and ID applications.
He also holds workshops with the community on the taboo subject of gay and lesbianism within the church and community.
"Gays and lesbians should not be chased away from the church. They should be welcomed and prayed for. I don't hate them but I can not bless their marriage because it's against God's will," he said.
His work among the poor has earned him the position of church moderator in the Drakensburg district, the same status accorded to bishops in other mainstream churches.
Wilson Memela, an elder in the church, said: "Church leaders who have been here before chased worldly values, mainly money and praise but Stuurman is different. He has chosen to spend years with poor people to make them prosper."
Stuurman oversees 13 congregations in the rural district and admits that things have not always been easy.
"Unemployment and poverty is rife in this community," he said.
"We have lost many lives through HIV/Aids and we are hoping that with education and awareness projects at the community centre we will help deal with the social challenges faced by the rural community.
'We have plans to build an HIV/Aids orphanage to assist our children. We hope that government funding will come through for this," he added.
He said the social problems in rural areas were not easy to deal with.
"Very little happens to improve the lives of rural people," he said. "Most work on farms and earn little money. Those with matric fail to find proper jobs."