Charisse Zeifert

Religious tolerance holds the key to fixing SA's ills

Pretoria News

Last Monday morning started on a high note.  If you were listening to SAfm’s with Sakina Kamwendo.

The discussion was “Religious Tolerance”, and the five speakers, each representing a different faith community, were in agreement: South Africans need to be more tolerant of each other, leadership needs to ensure that the various faiths work together in synergy, and education about one another is crucial.

The mullah expressed his appreciation that the respective faiths had reached out to the Muslim community to condemn the recent mosque desecrations in the Western Cape, including the depositing of a pig’s snout at one of them, while the rabbi was at pains to explain the benign nature of halaal and kosher signs on food products.

However, the goodwill expressed by the panellists was not present in many of the SMSes and comments made by the listeners.  These spoke to a different reality on the ground: anger; frustration and frequently out-and-out prejudice.

In this environment, scapegoating becomes inevitable, with minority groups invariably being singled out.

Add to this mix our current volatile political climate, and all too often Jews end up being the proverbial “football” to be kicked around for political gain.

Take, for example, an article published in City Press last week, discussing the political succession debate in the ANC.  It was reported that in certain quarters, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was being described as a liability to the party because he was “in the pockets of the Jews”.

Another recent example, also reported by the City Press, was in November last year, with Edward Zuma stating as fact the spurious claim that “mining licences are given to Jews”.

About the same time, following #FeesMustFall-related anti-Jewish graffiti appearing on the University of the Witwatersrand campus.  Twitter discussions around state capture resulted in accusations that “whites and Jews perfected state capture in 1900”.  

Former Western Cape ANC chairman Marius Fransman has been especially culpable of playing the Jewish financial conspiracy cared.  Speaking on Voice of the Cape on February 26, 2013, in what was self-evidently a ploy to elicit Muslim support for his party, he asserted that Western Cape Jewry was unfairly benefiting at the expense of the Muslims because of the policies of the DA (“We saw that the DA had given over building contracts in Woodstock and Observatory that historically were in the hands of Muslim and now they have given it to the people from the Jewish community”).

Later that year, he again singled out Jews as being especially guilty of benefiting at the expense of the majority population, stating that “98% of land and property owners actually is the white community and, in particular, people in the Jewish community”.

These and similar such incidents are part of a growing trend in which conspiracy theories alleging Jewish control of global finance and the singling out and scapegoating of Jews specifically for South Africa’s ill are becoming a common feature of political discourse.

Such notions are racist and factually baseless.  They constitute classic anti-Semitic modes of thinking that historically have been exploited the world over to both promote and justify discrimination, and sometimes even violent attacks, against Jewish communities.

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies has been actively and consistently calling for hate crimes legislation to be implemented in this country.

We work with other organisations, including the Hate Crimes Working Group, to educate against singling out for attack, any community because of its colour, faith, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.  And we do so because we know that hate crimes begin with hate speech.

In a society that struggles almost daily with incidences of racism, and where identity has long been used as a means of marginalising and repressing people, we urge all political parties and good citizens to eschew this kind of language and instil and practise the culture of tolerance and respect that our country so dearly needs.

Our religious leaders talking on SAfm were on the same page.  The challenge is to get all the good people of this country to follow, so that racist scapegoating and conspiracy theorising remains limited to the fringes of public discourse, where it belongs.

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