Premier Dr Zweli Mkhize,
Mr Ashwin Trikamjee and leadership of the Hindu Maha Sabha,
Members of the diplomatic corps,
Captains of Business and Industry,
I am honoured to address this important occasion of the Centenary of the Hindu Maha Sabha.
Just over a year ago South Africa commemorated 150 years of the arrival of Indian Indentured Labourers in South Africa, and a few years prior to that, the 100th anniversary of the Satyagraha Campaign started by Mahatma Gandhi in protest against racial oppression.
Today South Africans of Indian origin number about 1.28 million according to Statistics SA and over 60% are Hindus. This community is an integral part of South African society and adds to the colourful rainbow nation that makes us proud South Africans.
This historic moment coincides with the centenary of the African National Congress, the very organisation which fought for the linguistic, religious and cultural rights of the bodies such as the Hindu Maha Sabha over the years.
Hindu Maha Sabha reminds us of our historic links with India, one of the first countries outside Africa to highlight our struggle for liberation at the UN in 1946 and to recognise the ANC. The ANC was allowed to establish a mission in New Delhi and it was granted full diplomatic status in 1967.
The bonds of friendship and solidarity between South Africa and India were thus solidified through a shared struggle identity and colonial experience. Such struggle was also aimed at preserving our very essence of being and dignity, our religions, our languages and culture.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The centenary also allows us to appreciate the Hindu faith and culture. It is important to note that Gandhi’s philosophy of Satyagraha is based on the Hindu faith; the philosophy of non-violence premised on the understandings of Satya (seeking the Truth).
It is also based on Ahimsa, which refers to reverence for life and commitment to total non-violence; as well as Sarvodaya, which speaks to the welfare of all people.
We are also impressed and inspired by the strong values which guide the activities of the Hindu Maha Sabha, which include selfless service, volunteerism, accountability, respect, fairness, continuous improvement and unity.
These are values that we all believe in, and which promote peace and good neighbourliness.
We also welcome the fact that the central mission of the Maha Sabha is to contribute to good relations between Hindus and other communities locally and internationally towards sound nation building. That fits in well with the goals of government, of promoting social cohesion.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This centenary also provides an opportunity to celebrate the contribution of the Hindu community to the struggle for liberation.
Apart from Mahatma, many South Africans of Indian origin and specifically Hindus, played a prominent part in our struggle for freedom and are still playing a meaningful role in the social, economic and political reconstruction of this country.
In 1990, when a new chapter in the country’s history began, progressive forces looked for organisations like the Maha Sabha to participate in discussion forums for change in this country and to rally its affiliate organisations.
In the months preceding the election, the Maha Sabha was drawn into structures planning for the political transition, including assisting in voter education. As you know, voting, for the majority of South Africans, was a first time experience.
The Maha Sabha was involved in the appointment of election monitors and participated in the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).
I recall that on several occasions Maha Sabha officials travelled to Johannesburg for meetings initiated by the African National Congress and the South African Council of Churches.
At some meetings the officials interacted freely with stalwarts like Nelson Mandela, Chris Hani and others and in doing so the Sabha gained the recognition of the ANC as a national body for Hindus.
You also participated in regular meetings organised by the Diakonia Council of Churches and IDASA.
When the new democratic government was inaugurated in 1994, South Africans of Indian descent were appointed to government, and many continue to serve in the National Parliament, Provincial Legislatures and local government.
This continues to affirm the Freedom Charter and Constitutional assertion that South Africa indeed belongs to all of us.
Ladies and gentlemen;
Our democratic constitution is very unique in the sense that it not only protects the eleven official languages of South Africa, but also defends the languages and cultures of all minority communities in South Africa, such as Hindu, Tamil, Gujarat, German and Portuguese.
On this day let us reaffirm our country’s cultural diversity as a strength. A nation that understands and tolerates diversity is a nation at peace with itself.
And a nation that is at peace with itself creates a conducive climate for free economic activity and positive contribution to the improvement of the standard of living for its citizens and its neighbours.
This diversity is critical to social cohesion, to the inculcation of patriotism and for peace and stability in any country in the world.
In our country, traditional leaders, healers and religious leaders have played an important role in instilling values of humanity to our young people and in deepening our democracy.
In 2007 in Polokwane, we resolved to urge the National Religious Leaders Forum to take active steps and processes to promote interfaith initiatives to promote unity, peace and prosperity on the continent.
The ANC Commission on Religious and Traditional Affairs facilitated the formation of the National Interfaith Council of South Africa (NICSA) and its affiliation to the Interfaith Action for Peace in Africa (IFAPA).
In this regard, as government we have entrenched deep relations with the National Interfaith Movement, so that together we can see how best to develop this country and to strengthen the society’s moral fibre.
We are happy that in some quarters progress is being made, with among others, the adoption of the Bill of Responsibilities alongside our Bill of Rights, to promote discipline among our young people, the very future leaders of this country.
We also value the role of the faith based sector in the campaigns against HIV and Aids, against violence on women and children and in promoting unity and reconciliation in this country.
We therefore are looking forward to even more meaningful contribution of organisations of the Maha Sabha in building this country.
Ladies and gentlemen may I take this opportunity to remind you for the need to preserve our cultural organisations and our respective cultures.
This means Indian youth must have an interest in the languages of their forefathers like Hindu, Tamil and Gujarat, as much as others must not shy away from reading, writing and speaking Sepedi, isiZulu or isiXhosa.
The young generation only speaks English and is not encouraged to learn these languages. We cannot produce a new generation that is not grounded in indigenous culture as they will be confused and be alienated from their roots.
They will start doing and accepting all sorts of practices which may be alien to our culture.
Let us encourage the Hindu youth for example to learn Indian languages so as to be in touch with their culture and traditions. That will not make them less South African. Instead, they will add to the rainbow mix and make this a more colourful country when it comes to languages as well.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The centenary of the Maha Sabha is not only an important day in the calendar of the Hindu community, but also for our country as a whole. It is an opportunity to celebrate our collective inheritance of diversity, the joy of a country at peace with itself, with its neighbours and with the world.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Happy 100 years to the South African Hindu Maha Sabha!
We congratulate you on such a milestone, and wish the Hindu community all the best for the next 100 years!
I thank you.