Although the South African constitution guarantees religious freedom, the state has not been exactly tolerant towards faith expression. First there was the debacle surrounding the refusal of Home Affairs to grant the Dalai Lama a visa in order to attend a birthday celebration in honour of Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu. There are some 6,000 Buddhists living in South Africa, less than 0.01% of the population.
Then there was the South African Labour Court’s insistence that working class Jews must seek religious guidance from employers in a labour situation in which employees may be interrogated on matters of religious doctrine. Both cases are still ongoing and demonstrate the complete failure of the South African government to cater to minority religious groupings.
Now we hear of the eminent demise of Christmas and Good Friday as public holidays. It is not all that surprising. Why should Christians be allowed to practice their religious traditions and not other groups?
A few hundred people took to the Johannesburg CBD yesterday to voice their concern over hearings to review public holidays.
“Hands off Christmas and Good Friday!” was the message conveyed by supporters of the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP). The march led by ACDP leader Kenneth Meshoe ended with his handing over a memorandum to Home Affairs minister, Naledi Pandor at Constitutional Hill to oppose a motion by the Commission for the Protection and Promotion of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities.
The commission is allegedly exploring the idea of requesting government to scrap Good Friday and Christmas from the national calendar. The commission alleges that the celebrating of the two Christian holidays discriminated and excludes other religious denominations.
Reading the memorandum, Meshoe said they did not believe the two holidays discriminated against any religion.
“According to Statistics South Africa, Christians make up 79.5% of the country’s population,” said Meshoe.
He said the existence of these two holidays on the calendar showed the majority’s standing.
It is unclear what Meshoe’s true rationale for opposing the motion is, since it is apparent from a number of legal precedents set over the past years such as the Dalai Lama case*, that there is really no such thing as freedom of religion in South Africa.
NOTE: In terms of current South African Labour Law, it is entirely up to the discression of the employer, as to whether or not Muslim employees are able to take off certain religious holidays.