Keep on building peace, religious leaders urged

2012-04-27 00:00

RELIGIOUS leaders in South Africa are not playing the part that they should on the continent to help build peace and promote development.

Chief whip in the National Assembly Dr Mathole Motshekga said this at a gathering of religious leaders in the Pietermaritzburg City Hall yesterday. Motshekga, who is also the head of the ANC desk for religious and cultural affairs, was the main speaker at an interfaith symposium organised by the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature.

Motshekga said the church played a pivotal role in the early 1990s when the country was in transition.

“There was a lot of violence, especially in this province. It was religious leaders who were involved in peacebuilding initiatives.”

That task should not come to an end.

“Look at Sudan: a new state has been born, but there is still no lasting solution. The tensions between the Christians and Muslims remain. In the north there is conflict among the Muslims themselves with some wanting a secular state and others an Islamic state.”

Motshekga went on to outline other areas marked by religious conflict, like in Ireland. He said he had just returned from the European parliament where the situation in North Africa that resulted in the “Arab Spring” was discussed.

“The people involved in the discussion were all Muslim, but their interpretations of Islam were all different so they could not decide what type of society to build.”

He said the situation was different in South Africa and recalled the ANC centenary celebration in Mangaung in January. Motshekga said it was quite a sight to see Christian, Hindu and Muslim leaders dancing together to the music of drums played by traditional leaders.

“This showed that we are a highly tolerant society and the future and stability of South Africa depends on tolerance,” he said.

This was also the reason why South Africa was a secular state. “The state must be the home for all citizens regardless of culture or religion. No religious institution should work for the establishment of a state based on their religion; that would be a recipe for conflict.”

Motshekga touched on a fact that had worried local leaders — that there had been a National Religious Leaders’ Forum (NRLF) established when Nelson Mandela was president. When President Jacob Zuma became president he established a National Interfaith Leaders’ Council (NILC), which had left many mainstream churches feeling excluded.

Motshekga said there had been unity talks and that in January the NRLF and NICL agreed to form one organisation.

Dr Lucas Ngoetjana, head of advocacy for the KZN Council of Churches, said he was grateful to learn that there was now one body because this was an issue the council had taken up with the government.

• nalini@witness.co.za

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