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ANC: Statement by Mathole Motshekga, African National Congress NEC member, on addressing religious conflicts (22/10/2011)

22nd October 2011

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From the 14th to 18th October 2011 the international league of religious socialists (ILRS) held a conference in The Hague to develop strategies and programme of action to mobilize the religious left for social transformation. The ANC Commission for Religious and Traditional Affairs was invited to make a presentation on religion and politics in South Africa and in particular the work done since 2008 to build the national interfaith movement for social transformation and development.

The religious left from the labour and social democratic and labour parties attended the conference from the Netherlands, Spain, the Philippines, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Palestine. The conference received reports on the birth of secularism, fundamentalist humanism and religious conflicts in various countries parts of the world.

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From the 18th to 20th century Western countries enslaved people of African descent and other darker races. After the abolition of slavery these people acquired the citizenship of these countries, which were relatively homogeneous. Military interventions in the domestic affairs of third world countries by former colonial powers saw colonial peoples migrating to western countries as political or economic refugees.

The economic boom in countries like Germany and France made Asiatic and African people migrating to these countries to take up menial jobs, which were shunned by the citizens. The cumulative effect of this development has been the birth of cultural, religious and linguistic diversity in western countries.

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Recently these countries have been affected by economic recession and the concomitant poverty, unemployment homeless and associate social ills. These developments have given birth to populist parties that are using Asiatic and African peoples as scapegoats for their social and economic challenges. The decline of Christianity among people of European descent and the growth of Christianity and Islam among Asiatic and African peoples in the west have given birth to secularism and fundamentalist humanism.

Western culture was based on the declining Christianity which is witnessing the sale of cathedrals and churches to Muslims in some western countries. Religion among these African and Asiatic peoples promotes and enhances social cohesion and resilience against harsh economic conditions. This situation instills fear and hatred against foreigners who are seen as endangering their cultural unity social and economic security. New political movements are now using religion as the scapegoat for social and economic challenges facing their countries.

They believe that their redemption and survival depends on weakling religious movements, especially Islam by pushing religion out of all public spaces and creating secular states. This secular movement has revived the old debate of separation of state and the church.

In the Scandinavian countries where the Lutheranism is still a state religion movements have begun to separate state and church. However the real issue is that this secular movement seeks to completely push out all religions, especially Islam out of all public spaces. This has given birth to Xenophobia and Islam- phobia.

The negative tendencies have led to the banning of some Muslim religions practices, prohibition of minarets, which are integral parts of mosques and the Muslim religion. There are also emerging tendencies to make land inaccessible for building mosques. In some countries male circumcision, which is part of Judaism and Islam, has been banned in public hospitals. This leads to importation of physicians to perform illegal male circumcision, which endangers the lives and health of children affected.

The conference welcome the move to separate state and church to creation of secular states but observed that this secular movement is merely using religion as a scapegoat to achieve political power and control of resources they need to address the perceived threat citizens of Asiatic and African descent in their countries. It was also observed that religious intolerance conflicts especially between Islam and Christianity reinforce the onslaught of the secular movement against religion.

It was resolved therefore that the co-operation of faith based organizations amongst themselves and their engagement with political parties on interfaith basics is critical for the survival of religion itself. The successful unification of faith-based organizations in South Africa and in particular the formation of the national interfaith council of South Africa (NICSA) provided a model for global interfaith solidarity and collaboration.

The other threat to religion comes from the Neo-humanist movement, which has emerged in the Scandinavian countries. This movement has stripped the humanist philosophy of all its spiritual aspects and reduced it to an imprudent materialist philosophy, which doesn't admit of any religious thoughts of practices the interfaith intolerance and conflicts reinforces this Neo-humanist movement and denies faith-based organizations the opportunity to engage with the public and political parties to combat this Neo-humanist movement which threatens nation building and social cohesion.

The ANC Commission on Religious and Traditional Affairs (CRATA) has given effect to the Polokwane resolution on interfaith work. It has facilitated the dissolution of the National Religious Leaders Forum (NRLF) and the National Interfaith Leaders Council (NILC) and the formation of the National Interfaith Council of South Africa (NICSA) and its affiliation to the National Interfaith movement to the Interfaith Action for Peace in Africa (IFAPA). National Interfaith movements have already participated in Pan African Interfaith conference in Botswana and Kenya.

Under apartheid colonialism African culture and religion were suppressed, outlawed and defined as paganism. Our icon, Nelson Mandela unbanned and repositioned African Culture and religion when he called for religious tolerance between Islam and Christianity and between the two on one side and African Religion on the other. Nelson Mandela went on to say that African religion is no longer a superstition, which must be replaced, by other forms of religion.

Inspired by South African National interfaith organization and collaboration, the ILRS conference held at Movenplek hotel. The Hague, resolved to take active steps to promote global interfaith dialogue for social transformation and development. A plan of action in this regard will be presented at the ILRS conference in Stockholm, June 2012,l where the ILRS will make proposals for a new international economic.

CRATA has already established ties with the institute for politics and Religion in Washington DC and participated in the memorial march organized by this Institute and the congressional black. Caucus in Alabama to commemorate the civil rights March led by martin Luther King. The Institute has agreed to work together with the South African Interfaith Movement.

At the Shin Fein national Conference in Belfast the writer met President jerry Adams and the leader of the Catholic Church to promote an interfaith action in North Island for social transformation and development. CRATA and the South African Interfaith movement was urged to work with the parties in Northern Island to promote interfaith dialogue for social transformation.

It is evident that originally diverse religions had much more in common and merely differed in the expression and practice of their beliefs. In the course of the course of time, Jome religious and political leaders manipulated religious to achieve political power and access to resources. This abuse of religion has led to hostility towards religions and led to the rise of secularism and fundamentalist humanism.

To address these developments and their accompanying challenges FBOs need to bury their differences and promote global interfaith dialogue which will lead to the formation of a global interfaith movement for social transformation and development. It is evident that socio-economic challenges such as poverty, unemployment homeless and under development in general exacerbate religious intolerance and conflicts to combat this faith-based organizations must become engage with civil societies and government on an interfaith basis to form partnership for socio-economic development religious institutions should become developmental and activist in character.

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