South African President Jacob Zuma has denied reports quoting him as telling religious leaders to stick to religion and not to get involved politics.

Several religious leaders, including Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, have attacked the president over the media reports, saying the quote reminded them of apartheid leaders making similar statements.

Zuma was reported to have cautioned religious leaders at a Twelve Apostles’ Church in Christ thanksgiving meeting to avoid being drawn into divisive party political squabbles.

Presidential Spokesperson Bongani Ngqulunga said here Wednesday that the president valued the contributions made by religious leaders.

“President Zuma understands, appreciates and commends the role that the faith-based community played in the struggle for liberation which led to the dawn of freedom and democracy in our country. The government also values the role that that the faith-based sector continue to play in the reconstruction and development of our country and in promoting national unity,” said Ngqulunga.