Valhalla mosque protests pure racism - Tshwane Islamic trust

Pretoria – The protests and commentary against the construction of a mosque in Valhalla, near Centurion, is pure racism and Islamophobia, the chairperson of the Tshwane Islamic Trust says.

Yaseen Abdul was speaking to News24 after about 10 000 square metres of land came into the hands of the trust three weeks ago. The trust has plans to erect a mosque in the area.

However, some opposed to the mosque construction threatened to slaughter pigs on the land while others insinuated it could become a breeding ground for members of terrorist group, ISIS.

Some held posters read "Paris Brussels Valhalla??? NO!" while another one read "Geen ISIS in Valhalla (No ISIS in Valhalla)".

"Apartheid was bad... But 23 years into democracy and to have this type of sentiment is very disgusting," Abdul told News24 on Wednesday.

"It is really sore to think that those people are getting publicity with stupid, ignorant, vile, despicable sentiments. It's sad."

Creating social cohesion

In March 2013, the trust – on behalf of the Muslim community in the area – had submitted a proposal to the city to purchase the land.

About four months later, the trust was notified that the city council would not sell the land but would award it to them as a donation, as the city viewed the proposal as an opportunity to create social cohesion and promote diversity in the area, he said.

One of the concerns raised included the call to prayer over a loudspeaker five times a day, the amount of parking space in the vicinity as well as the fact that the area was predominantly Christian and "should stay that way", Abdul said.

According to Abdul, members of the trust had met with Ina Strijdom, who is a councillor in the area, to clarify that a loudhailer would not be used during the call to prayer and that there would be sufficient parking space on the property ensuring that traffic flow was not affected.

"We demonstrated to her the technology that would allow us to use call-to-prayer via our cellphones and transmitters in Muslim homes, so our Christian neighbours wouldn't hear.

"That is tolerance," Abdul said. "We are trying to be tolerant, we know we live in a predominantly white area."

READ MORE:- 'When Muslims move in, they expand'

There were a number of attempted public meetings since 2013 in which the atmosphere quickly turned tense, with racial slurs thrown around, he said. He understood their concerns, but said they were never awarded the opportunity to provide clarity, which may have gone a long way in calming some of the residents' worries.

Right to a place of worship

"Obviously the community is angered and frustrated that the land has been donated... We understand [their] concerns, they feel their peace and tranquillity will be affected."

However, it was also the Muslim community's right to have a place of worship in the area where they resided, Abdul said.

"We pray five times a day, we've got to pray in congregation. [Now] we have to drive to Laudium and drive back home," he said.

Their nearest places of worship were about 12 kilometres away in Laudium and Erasmia, he said.

Despite the city standing by its decision to donate the land to the trust, about 3 000 residents in the area have signed a petition protesting the construction.

The man spearheading the petition is Richard Botha, a resident and a former councillor in the area.

According to Botha, the threats against Muslims in the area had come from a small group of people and was not the general sentiment in the community.

"I think there is a minority that have obviously boiled over because of this. It doesn't represent the whole of the Valhalla society."

‘Process not transparent’

However, the fact that 3 000 people had put their names down for the petition, in a period of two days, out of an area with a population of about 10 000 people "speaks volumes", Botha said.

The biggest problem that residents had with the donation of the land was that, in their opinion, the process was not transparent. This was why they planned on filing an application in court to have the council's decision to hand over the land overruled.

According to Botha, the city did not give residents 60 days’ notice that the land would be changing hands. There was also an insufficient public participation process, he said.

"People are unhappy that a democratic process was not followed. Why did they have to railroad this through?"

Botha accused one of the members of the council of saying, "We don't care what Valhalla residents want, this [handover] is going through".

WATCH: SABC journalist Valhalla community leader over anti-mosque sentiment:

The City of Tshwane has maintained it did things by the book.

Spokesperson Blessing Manale said the public participation process was followed and that it was not solely defined by just having one meeting in a hall, and that the department had a series of events where the city had engaged with residents in other ways.

The right to donate land

One of the reasons the city had opted to donate the piece of land was also to ensure that it was used for its initial purpose and would not be sold at a later stage.

"The city has a right to donate land to anyone. The donation makes sure [the land] will stay as a place of worship and not change to another thing.

"The trust can disappear tomorrow and that is what we are avoiding," he said.

Earlier, Botha had claimed that there was a previous proposal for the land to be used for a school, but that the proposal was declined by the city.

Manale said the city had checked with all relevant departments before allocating the land and found none intended using the land.

After a decision was made in 2014 to dispose of the land through a donation, a notice was placed in local and national newspapers notifying the public, he added.

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