Cultural, religious and linguistic rights indaba

[notice]AFRIKA MHLOPHE returned this week from a Government-sponsored conference attended by South Africans of vastly different worldviews. He shares some impressions of this event.[/notice]

The CRL Commission, a statutory organisation tasked with the promotion and protection of the rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, held its National Consultative Conference from March 7 to March 10, 2013. This conference, held every five years, was hosted in St Georges Hotel and Conference Centre in Johannesburg. The theme of the conference was “Cultural, Religious, and Linguistic Rights in South Africa, 20 Years into Democracy”.

The event brought together delegates from various cultures, religions, and language groups who debated policy issues pertinent to these sectors. Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister, Richard Baloyi, in his keynote address, challenged the commission and those present to arrest the moral decay that has blackened the nation.

He revealed that in May 2012 the country had already exceeded the number of protests that had taken place in the last 5 years. The disturbing thing about these protests is the violence and mayhem that accompanies them. The minister also reminded the commission that it does not exist just to hold meetings and go through the formalities as it is the case with some government entities but to focus and fulfil its objectives.

Religious holidays debate
What is the main objective of the CRL Commission? When you read the Act of Parliament that established this commission you would see that the commission exists mainly to deal with issues related to culture, religion and languages. The Commission functions alongside other Chapter 9 government institutions such as the Human Rights Commission (HRC). Many Christians only became aware of the CRL when it facilitated a debate on religious holidays.

The commission drew the ire of many Christians when it entertained the idea that some Christian holidays need to be curtailed. The chairperson of the commission, Rev Dr Wesley Mabuza said that there are people who complained to the commission about the dominance of Christianity in this country. They argue that their religions are not accorded the same status as the Christian religion.

The task of the commission is to deal with complaints of this nature and resolve the issues that create conflict between different cultures, religions, and language groups. My feeling is that there are people who use the commission in order to profile and spotlight their religions and cultures. This is a point that was also raised by Port Elizabeth Pastor Zolile Dayimani, who travelled with me to the conference. He said Christianity cannot be blamed for its popularity when other religions are not doing enough to proselytise and tell people about their convictions. We were told in the conference that there are seven main religions that are practiced in South Africa. The sad thing is that some in these religions do not see Christianity as a partner in addressing the many problems that beset our nation but see it as a enemy and competitor.

African sprituality
The conference was also addressed by Dr Mathole Motshekga who is the Parliamentary Chief Whip of the ANC. Dr Motshekga is the director of the Kara Heritage Institute, an institute that encourages Africans to embrace African spirituality and indigenous beliefs. In the conference Dr Motshekga touched on the issue of violence against women and children and attributed this scourge to SA’s apartheid legacy.

He said that religious communities must play a developmental role and not just prepare people for heaven. He chirped that when you get to heaven a record of your good deeds on earth will be required as a pass and if it is found wanting you will have to return back to earth. He then said that the violence we see around us was caused by spirits of those who were sent back to earth when they did not gain entrance into heaven.

Motshekga also spoke about the need for people to take responsibility for their own development. As an example he said it is the responsibility of the parents to make sure that their children do their homework. He said that when parents fail in this supervisory role they should not blame his wife for poor academic results. His wife is the Minister of Basic Education, the much -maligned Angie Motshekga who I spotted in the same hotel attending an ANC Women’s League meeting.

There are many other speakers who addressed the conference and various breakaway sessions were also held. Although the conference is supposed to mend the rift between the different cultures, religions, language groups, it ended up revealing how polarized we still are as a nation. Many people advocated for the rights of their religions and cultures and few bothered to look at things that would unify us as a nation.

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