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Top 3 myths about religion in South Africa

23 November 2012, 07:20

1) South Africa is a Christian country (i.e. majority rules).


The Bill of Rights in the Constitution of the new South Africa states that everyone has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion.


In a speech on 21 October 2010, our Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke stated:


"We have opted for a secular state which is enjoined to observe strict neutrality among religious tendencies. This duty indeed extends to the right not to believe or hold or observe any religion."


One might be forgiven for thinking otherwise as South Africa still has some way to go to redress religious discrimination in our legislation.


One change that has already been made relates to marriage laws. Prior to 30 November 2006, religious marriage officers could only be legally designated as such "for the purpose of solemnizing marriages according to Christian, Jewish or Mohammedan rites or the rites of any Indian religion" in accordance with the Marriage Act. The Civil Union Act legalized same-sex marriage and also allowed for the legal designation of religious marriage officers without any religious restriction in accordance with the Constitution.


The Witchcraft Suppression Act of 1957 based on colonial witchcraft legislation suppressing traditional African religion is currently under review by the South African Law Reform Commission. The act criminalizes claiming a knowledge of witchcraft, conducting specified practices associated with witchcraft including the use of charms and divination, and accusing others of practising witchcraft.


The South African Law Reform Commission's 2010/2011 Annual Report states:


"One of the SALRC's other new projects, the review of witchcraft legislation, will support the constitutional guarantee to freedom of religion, but will also serve to protect vulnerable groups. It is mostly women advanced in age that are persecuted as witches by communities holding traditional beliefs. These innocent victims are vulnerable to a double degree: as women and as older persons."


The Christian holidays of Christmas Day and Good Friday remain in our calendar of public holidays. The Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, a chapter nine institution established to support democracy, held countrywide consultative public hearings in June and July 2012 to assess the need for a review of public holidays following the receipt of complaints from minority groups about unfair discrimination.


Not everyone is Christian and not all non-Christians are blessed with an employer who allows them time off to celebrate their own religious beliefs. If anything ever comes of this, it does not mean that Christmas will be cancelled unless one's celebration of the day relies on government sanction.


One might also be forgiven for thinking there is no separation of church and state in South Africa as certain religious leaders and interfaith groups have made it their business to provide Zuma with an election campaign platformask South Africans to forgive Zuma's philanderingdefend Zuma's image in The Spear saga and publicly support the e-toll system. What do they hope to receive in return? I can only speculate that apart from political connections, Zuma's new God squad wants liberal laws to go.


2) Everything that is not Christian (or Jewish or Muslim) is Satanic (and evil).


Religious fundamentalists, so-called occult experts and the sensationalist media would like you to believe that everything that is not part of mainstream religion is evil (see one choice news article here: Rise in witchcraft & Satanism in KZN). Such propaganda belongs in history books about the Inquisition and the infamous Malleus Maleficarum handbook for medieval witch hunters.


3) All religious South Africans are sheeple.


I find it somewhat ironic that some atheists criticize others for not thinking exactly how they think and believing exactly what they believe.


Exercising one's constitutional right to explore beliefs outside of mainstream religion requires some serious intellectual effort and resistance to social prejudice.

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