Charisse Zeifert

We Must Religiously Show Tolerance


“​In a society such as ours, the challenge is to consign racist scapegoating to the fringes of public discourse.”

Last Monday morning started on a high-note, if you were listening to SAFM “Forum@8” 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 in 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 sms’s 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 as being the proverbial “football” to be kicked around for political gain. 

Take for example, an article that appeared in the City Press last week, discussing the political succession debate in the ANC. This 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 City Press, was in November last year, where Edward Zuma stated as fact the spurious claim that “Mining licenses are given to Jews”:  Around the same time, following #FeesMustFall-related anti-Jewish graffiti appearing on Wits University 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 card. Speaking on Voice of the Cape on 26 February 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 Muslims because of the policies of the DA (“We saw that the DA had given over building contracts in the BoKaap as well as lots of contracts in Woodstock and Observatory that historically were in the hands of Muslim participants and now they have given it to 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 the land owners 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 ills are becoming a common feature of political discourse. Such notions are both racist and factually baseless. They constitute classic antisemitic 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 together with other organisations, including the Hate Crimes Working Group, to educate against the 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 marginalizing and repressing people, we urge all political parties and good citizens to eschew this kind of language and instill and practice the culture of tolerance and respect that our country so dearly needs. Our religious leaders talking that morning 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 theorizing remains limited to the fringes of public discourse, where it belongs.


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