Our Esteemed Religious and Inter-Faith Leaders here present;
Members of Executive Councils present;
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honour and a privilege to welcome you to this important engagement between government and inter-faith Leaders, and I am appreciative to witness the strength of inter-faith unity and cooperation.
We are gathering here during a month dedicated to celebrating our cultural diversity, in accordance with the democratic values of inclusivity and participation. This is also an opportune time for us as the faith-based sector to reflect on the role we have played in protecting our religious heritage and contributing to shaping the moral compass of our nation.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); recognising the enduring nature of religious and sacred heritage, being able to safeguard its authenticity and integrity, including its unique spiritual importance, and promoting the understanding of our shared history, are the three essential elements for fostering mutual respect and dialogue among communities.
In our South African context, we have seen how the prioritisation of these aspirations as guided by our Constitution has anchored our nation and enabled strategic participation by faith based organisations in efforts to respond to crisis moments such as at the height of the covid-19 pandemic, and in the response to Gender Based Violence and Femicide.
Understanding the significance of religion and faith in our nation, it is important for us as inter-faith leaders to come together and discuss the necessary steps to safeguard the significance of religious and sacred sites, as these sites hold immense cultural value, and are crucial to ensuring that our traditions are not eroded over time.
As we all know, our nation thrives in its cultural richness and religious diversity. Our different faiths, beliefs, and traditions are the threads that make up the vibrant tapestry of our society. It is of utmost importance therefore, that we acknowledge, appreciate, and actively encourage the existence and representation of diverse individuals, cultures, and perspectives not just within the confines of our own communities.
We also need to work together as one in order to increase our impact on initiatives that promote social cohesion, inter-faith dialogue, and nation-building.
Additionally, we must recognize the power of education and inter-faith dialogue in fostering tolerance and understanding. By working hand-in-hand with educational institutions and the government, we can develop comprehensive educational programs that nurture respect and appreciation for religious diversity.
Ladies and gentlemen, as inter-faith leaders, I must acknowledge that you have indeed embodied the spirit of our heritage. It is encouraging to witness the fusion of various histories, languages, cultures, and religions in one room. This is why our country is also envied for the peaceful co-existence of various faiths, with none claiming supremacy over the other.
Most importantly, we share the same values, which are consistent with the founding values of our Constitution: those of human dignity, of the achievement of equality, of non-racialism and non-sexism; and of the advancement of human rights. You exemplify what it means to unite for a common goal, and as the government, we will continue to work with you to create a society that is both unified and cohesive.
We must continue to strengthen and pave our path of partnership in order to promote social cohesion and contribute to our nation-building project.
Our history demonstrates that, despite the many challenges we face as a nation, we can emerge strong if we embrace our diversity. Today, we enjoy the fruits of our democracy because leaders from diverse backgrounds fought together against the injustices and defended our civil and religious liberties.
Who can forget the role played by faith leaders like Beyers Naudé, Desmond Tutu, Peter Storey, Allan Boesak and Dr Martin Luther King Jnr.?
Martin Luther King Jnr. was a towering figure in the American civil rights movement, and his ideas of non-violent resistance to oppression had a great bearing on the liberation struggle here at home. One of the things I remember about him is his seminal speech in 1968, delivered in Memphis, Tennessee, declaring that - “The nation is sick, trouble is in the land; confusion all around. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough you can see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding.”
It is specifically the calibre of religious leadership displayed by Martin Luther King Jnr. that has shaped the Civil Rights Movement and their efforts against a dark time, when black men, women, and children were being brutalised for demanding equal treatment. It is indeed, also the same motivation that shaped the activism of religious leaders in South Africa’s fight against apartheid.
Reflecting on this history and also acknowledging the temporal disparities and distinct challenges of our current era, we must draw from the lessons of the past, and use them as a compass for addressing some of the social challenges that exist in our modern culture. Your presence here today, serves as evidence that you have once again heeded the call to collaborate with government, with the shared objective of fostering reconciliation within our nation.
Among the many challenges confronting us as a nation, we must address gender-based violence and femicide, poverty, unemployment, drug and substance abuse, child abuse, crime, corruption, teenage pregnancy, and the high rate of HIV infection among young people.
It is disheartening that the women and girls of our country no longer feel safe in their homes, on the streets, in public transport and at their places of work. Many of our people are abusing alcohol and using drugs, which is causing numerous social problems such as unsafe behaviour on our roads, violence, crime, and truancy.
Despite the efforts made by government and other stakeholders to fight the HIV epidemic, many of our young people are still engaging in unsafe sex, leading to high rates of teenage pregnancy and further spread of sexually transmitted diseases. The Department of Health and its stakeholders have particularly throughout this year intensified the campaigns and public education especially as it pertains to the management of the virus and containing its spread through adherence to treatment.
It is through these kind of programmatic interventions where the faith based community can partner with government to make tangible contributions to addressing some of the social ills in our country.
Not a day goes by that we are not confronted by acts of violence and criminality. Worse yet, these acts are being live-streamed, as social media turns citizens into passive bystanders in the humiliation and degradation of others.
This is not the South Africa we fought for.
It is not the South Africa for which many people were jailed and lost their lives. It is certainly not the South Africa we want ourselves and future generations to live in.
As a nation, we must be concerned about the deterioration of our social and moral fabric. It is therefore important that our partnership be institutionalised in order to effectively address these issues.
Let us renew our strength and apply the same resilience that we did when battling apartheid in order to construct the South Africa that our forefathers envisioned.
To address these difficulties, a collaborative effort involving not only governmental entities, but also active participation of all segments of society, particularly inter-faith communities, is essential. Inter-faith efforts, like community service, can be used to effect societal change. Now, more than ever, we must join forces to counter what has grown to threaten our communities.
As government, we are devoted to addressing social ills and in the past 29 years we have made significant progress in improving the lives of South Africans.
From an oppressive state machinery that had scant regard for the lives and living conditions of millions of our people, we now have a democratic state where all enjoy equal rights and equal protection before the law.
Today, more than ever before, the vast majority of South Africans, and in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have access to education, to health care and to basic services.
Today, more than ever before, millions of our citizens are protected from abject poverty through progressive policies of redistribution.
Today, our churches, our mosques, our synagogues and our temples are pillars of society, doing valuable work in education, in feeding the poor and the needy, and in being a consistent and powerful voice that speaks out against injustices in our country.
Ladies and gentlemen, as government, we appreciate the role of faith communities in guiding us when we have strayed from our mission to unite and develop our country.
As faith leaders, you have an important role to play in the renewal of our society, and in using your positions and influence to restore basic human values in our society.
The men and women of the faith community have never faltered in their willingness to do their part. For the betterment of their congregants, yes, but also for the betterment of communities, and for the country as a whole. It is the excellent work you are already doing in our communities that we want to harness and build upon.
Whether it is in providing education and awareness around alcohol and substance abuse, in offering counselling and support to couples and families, or in mobilising people around anti-crime initiatives, you have been our valued partners as we seek to address these social problems.
What we want to do here today is to deepen our partnership and to collectively come up with workable solutions on how we can better address the challenges that our country faces.
When we conclude our deliberations today we want to have planted the seeds for a new era of collaboration. It is an era that must be characterised not by words, but by deeds.
Today, we should declare that we take responsibility to establish a movement that will create a South Africa we all want to live in.
We will work together in advocating for a society rooted in the values enshrined in our Constitution, that affirm the worth and dignity of every human being.
Ours is a relatively young democracy. The tree of liberty was planted by our forebears, and has over the past 29 years of democracy, been watered and nurtured by all of us.
We cannot afford to have its roots wither away through intolerance and disrespect – for ourselves, for each other, and for the worth and dignity of every human being.
We must do all we can to ensure that our democracy remains steady and resilient, that those who come after us will continue to be able to rely on it, to take cover under its shade, and to enjoy its benefits and protection.
Let us forge ahead in the spirit of partnership and mutual understanding, for we share a common responsibility and a common goal – to realise a better South Africa for ourselves, for our children, and for generations to come.
I thank you.