SA must guard against terrorism

Austil Mathebula

On Saturday seven people were killed and dozens more injured after three men drove a van across London Bridge before stabbing people along the streets and in nearby bars and restaurants.

The week before that, the world witnessed another terrorist attack in Manchester where 22 people were murdered by a suicide bomber – 59 more were injured and scores of others were initially reported missing.

Among those who were murdered in the brutal Manchester attack was 8 year-old Saffie Rose Roussos, who still had a long life to live and enjoy.

The IS has claimed responsibility for both attacks. Security officials have said that the attackers in both instances are unlikely to have acted alone.     

These recent incidents, though nothing new in Europe, shook the world. It revived a debate on the need to create a society that’s not only pluralistic when it comes to religion, but also accommodating to those who are atheist.           

Similar incidents are a daily occurrence in many countries in Africa. Nigeria is battling fundamentalist group Boko Haram – which recently released scores of Chibok schoolgirls it had previously kidnapped, and refused to return them regardless of international pleas to do so.

Eighty-two out of the 300 schoolgirls who were kidnapped three years ago by Boko Haram were freed in exchange for detained suspects from the extremist group. However, 195 of the girls remain captive.

The girls are said to have been tortured and forced to read and internalise some religious teachings. 

There are many similar terrorist groups, some who claim to be committing these horrendous terrorist acts under instruction of a particular supernatural being.

South Africa is still facing problems that most democracies are facing, such as corruption, discrimination, child and woman abuse and high levels of inequality, among many others. 

As we fight to solve these problems – high levels of inequality arguably being the biggest of them – we need to guard against the evil of religious fandumentalism as it continues to be one of the biggest threats to world security.

The threat fundamentalists pose to world security is nothing to be taken lightly, and evils of fundamentalism can affect anyone regardless of race, gender, class, and, or, wherever you find yourself in the world.

The World Atlas defines religious fundamentalism as a “belief of an individual or a group of individuals in the absolute authority of a sacred religious text or teachings of a particular religious leader, prophet, and/or God. These fundamentalists believe that their religion is beyond any form of criticism, and should therefore also be forced upon others.”

It’s do or die.

What’s even scarier is that fundamentalists do not only target theists, but also atheists. Isn’t it scary that you stand a chance of being bombed or abused just because you don’t subscribe to the norms and standards of a certain religious group?

The South African Constitution guarantees everyone “the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion”. It means you and I have a right to practice any religion we choose; a right to be areligious; a right to express our opinions about other religions, although with limitations.

South Africa really needs to guard against this evil and ensure that we remain a democracy that is plural when it comes to religions. We need to ensure that everyone continues to be safe to practice any religion they want, and safeguard everyone a right not to believe, if that’s what they choose.

The South African government can never relax because what happened in the UK can happen to us any time. We need excellent intelligence agencies that can help protect civilians against such lunacy. We all need to unite – like we do when fighting corruption and discrimination – in condemning the evil of fundamentalism wherever it rears its ugly head. 

- Austil Mathebula is a content producer at News24.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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