Thursday 1 November 2012

Independence of Faith Communities from Government and Political Parties

This statement was issued by the Western Cape Religious Leaders' Forum on 1 November 2012. No invitation to President Zuma's meeting with 'the religious sector' was received at Bishopscourt.


The Western Cape Religious Leaders Forum (WCRLF) notes with concern the report on “Nation Building through Social Dialogue with the Religious Sector,” a conference convened at the Good Hope Centre on Tuesday 30 October 2012. The conference was organized by the ANC Legislature at which President Jacob Zuma was the keynote speaker. We note with further consternation that the conference purports to ‘strengthen the ANC’s association with the interfaith movement’ and hailed President Zuma as ‘having worked hard to unite the religious people of SA’.

The WCRLF feels compelled to re-affirm one of its founding principles namely, that faith communities should strive to be an independent voice, free of government or party political interference. This is one of the most important lessons that we as religious leaders have learnt from the apartheid crime against humanity, when some churches became the racist National Party at prayer. In light of this tragic lesson, WCRLF has committed itself to resist the temptation of merely being apologists for the political authorities or of being co-opted by political parties to advance their own agendas. We do not need government to unite the religious communities of South Africa. The vital process of inter-religious dialogue and solidarity should and is being nurtured and promoted by the interfaith movement ourselves. The WCRLF and its partner organization the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative (CTII) have been contributing to reconciliation in modest ways by striving to overcome the stubborn racial, religious and class divides in the City of Cape Town for more than a decade. Neither the WCRLF nor the CTII were invited to attend the conference held in our city.

Furthermore, as religious leaders we have a prophetic role of being one of civil society’s strongest partners in holding our government accountable for its political and moral mandate. This is the only insurance for a robust democracy. In this regard WCRLF has recently joined a wide range of public intellectuals and social activists in expressing concern about the growing problem of corruption in public and private life. With half our population living in poverty and millions still without jobs, housing, electricity, adequate sanitation, and medical care the human cost of corruption is widely felt. We thus note with great distress and dismay that the 30 October 2012 conference, cost a reported R2.1 million! The WCRLF supports calls to fully investigate how the event and funding came about.

We call on religious leaders and communities to be vigilant about attempts by government and political parties to co-opt them and to continue their prophetic role of being the independent moral conscience of society alongside other civil society partners.