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Opening remarks by Deputy President Paulus Mashatile during the engagement between Government and Western Cape Inter-Faith Leaders, Cape Sun Hotel, Cape Town

Programme Director;
Our esteemed Religious and Inter-Faith Leaders here;
Minister of Social Development, Ms Lindiwe Zulu;
Ministers and Deputy Ministers;
Honourable Member of the NCOP;
DDM Champions present;
Honourable Members of Parliament present;
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen,

Having an opportunity to engage with interfaith communities is consistently an honour and privilege for me, as I firmly believe that you are the backbone of our society. 

Since taking office, I have held several dialogues with interfaith communities, which should demonstrate my gratitude for your remarkable dedication to our nation's progress. 

Our office is committed to engaging in continuous dialogue with you on any issue affecting our society. We have therefore decided to expand this engagement to provincial levels, as we are doing today with you.

As interfaith leaders, you represent the starting point from which acts of kindness and generosity should originate. I greatly esteem you as the leaders of our society, as you are the individuals who regularly interact with communities on a daily basis. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today, we have convened here with three decades of our shared democracy, which we have built from the shackles of apartheid, with only ourselves to trust in the process. 

Reflecting on our journey, we have climbed mountains that were seemingly insurmountable. Through weaving together the threads of different faiths and the tireless work of numerous organisations, the dark cloud of apartheid was finally vanquished, paving the way for a freedom that we cherish.

It is important to always maintain a sense of gratitude for the achievements we have made and not let the pessimistic voices that solely focus on the negative aspects overshadow our progress.

We built our progress on the unity of diverse faiths, treating every religion with equal respect. In stark contrast, the apartheid era unfairly elevated Christianity as the sole faith, causing division among South Africans.

Today, it is truly remarkable to see people from diverse backgrounds joining forces to achieve great things, overcoming obstacles, and fostering unity for the betterment of our communities.

Today, we also have Chapter 2 of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, which recognises that everyone has the right to freedom of religion. Section 9, the equality clause, prohibits unfair discrimination on various grounds, including religion.

As Government, we are committed to upholding the rights of all individuals, regardless of their beliefs or religious affiliations. We strive to provide equal respect and protection to both believers and non-believers, as well as to different religious denominations.

Equally, our commitment to addressing social issues has been unwavering. Over the past 30 years, we have made remarkable strides in enhancing the well-being of South Africans.

We have transitioned from an authoritarian state apparatus that overlooked the lives and living conditions of millions of our citizens to a democratic nation that guarantees equal protection for every individual. 

A significant number of South Africans, especially those who are less fortunate, now have the opportunity to access education, healthcare, and basic services. More than ever before, millions of our citizens are shielded from abject poverty by means of among others the redistribution policies that represent progress, such as the Land Reform Programme.

Today, our churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples serve as cornerstones of society, providing vital education, feeding the poor and needy, and speaking out against injustices in our nation with a consistent and strong approach.

I would like to commend the wonderful work that the interfaith communities here in the Western Cape have done. I also appreciate the Western Cape Interfaith Leaders for uniting most of these diverse religions and denominations under one umbrella body.

We have a shared responsibility to bring all religions together in our efforts to promote national unity and social cohesion.

This is a task that I began while serving as Minister of Arts and Culture, and it remains important to me even today.

South Africa, with its widely diversified community, has encountered enormous obstacles to social cohesion and togetherness. The interfaith community, comprising various religious traditions, has been working tirelessly to bridge these gaps, and your presence today demonstrates your willingness to collaborate and promote unity and reconciliation among diverse populations in South Africa.

Moreover, our nation faces a multitude of challenges that include gender-based violence and femicide, poverty, unemployment, access to quality education, drug and substance abuse, child abuse, crime, corruption, teenage pregnancy, and high HIV infection rates among young people.

The current state of safety conditions for women and girls in their residences, workplaces, public transportation, and roadways is disturbing. In addition, it is concerning that, despite the serious risks associated with HIV/AIDS, a significant number of young individuals continue to partake in unprotected sexual activities. This behaviour has led to alarming rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

As faith communities, you should not stand by and watch when our young people are without information on sexual and reproductive health and rights. The faith community has a collective duty to use its leadership influence to educate young people about the dangers of unprotected sex. We should teach young boys and girls about abstinence as a way to avoid the risks that come with sex, like pregnancy and STDs.

Another pressing challenge that requires our active involvement is the prevalence of drug abuse and addiction in our communities. The abuse of drugs such as marijuana, methamphetamines, and opioids has increased in recent years, leading to a rise in crime, poverty, and health issues.

This is no longer an individual problem but a national concern that needs collective intervention from the church, law enforcement, parents, children, and teachers. As interfaith communities at the forefront of our society, it is your responsibility to coordinate social activities and community outreach programs for young people, ensuring they remain focused on their future.

We can achieve social cohesion and unity by ensuring that children receive proper nurturing, stay in school, and refrain from engaging in criminal activities. 

Together, we must build the nation by teaching good behaviour and righteousness.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Your concerns about by-laws that do not accommodate churches, access to public land and facilities for religious purposes, and the issue of empowering religious leaders to serve as Commissioners of Oaths and Marriage Officers have also reached my attention.

These are crucial matters that necessitate a thoughtful and open exchange of ideas to arrive at the optimal resolution. I am eager to delve into this matter and find an amicable resolution.

We must all agree that the issue of equitable land distribution remains a challenge for our people.

This, among others, is a result of the more entrenched legacy of apartheid, which deprived our people of their right to ancestral land.

The Constitution empowers us to implement legislative measures that guarantee equal access to land, and provides comparable redress to individuals or communities facing legally insecure land tenure as a result of past racially discriminatory laws or practices. This guarantees the preservation of ancestral land rights for all citizens.

Let me reassure you that the IMC on Land Reform, which I share, is executing initiatives aimed at expediting land redistribution and restoring the rights of many previously dispossessed individuals.

In terms of bylaws, the Government is working hard to reduce excessive red tape that stifles our progress. Under President Cyril Ramaphosa's leadership, we established the Red Tape Reduction Team, which focuses on sectors such as tourist operator licences, travel visas, work permits, and the informal sector, with the goal of creating a competitive and thriving economy.

I beseech you, as interfaith leaders, to actively collaborate with the task team to express your concerns. I believe that through this task team, we will be able to address some of your concerns regarding rates and tax policies, which are not responsive but rather very cumbersome and oppressive to churches that have little source of revenue to meet their very basic needs.

Today, we should declare that we take responsibility for establishing a movement that will create the South Africa we all want to live in. We must work in partnership to advocate for a society rooted in the values enshrined in our Constitution that affirm the worth and dignity of every human being.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We must further exercise our constitutional right by participating in the upcoming elections and casting our votes. With less than twenty-five days until the election, we must inspire each other and those we lead to do the same. You must use influence to promote tolerance, foster peace and pray for a peaceful election.

As I conclude, I also want us to have a meaningful conversation about fostering moral regeneration in communities. In an increasingly varied and interdependent world, we must work across religious and cultural divides to instill compassion, understanding, and respect.

At the same time, we cannot undervalue the role of governance in establishing frameworks and policies that uphold these values. We have to provide an atmosphere that encourages collaboration, moral education, and interfaith dialogue.

Such an atmosphere may remove misconceptions and foster empathy and respect. Through such dialogue, we may promote ideals shared across religious traditions, such as compassion, justice, and peace, thus providing a common basis for moral development.

Let us forge ahead in the spirit of partnership and mutual understanding, for we share a common responsibility and goal: to realise a better South Africa for ourselves, for our children, and for the children of tomorrow.

Thank you.

 Union Building