Fight over religious holidays
The debate on religious holidays continued in Cape Town on Thursday when
the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of
Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities gathered to hear local
representations. Pheagane Moreroa, CEO of the Commission told the
gathering that the hearings were about nationbuilding and strengthening
According to Moreroa, while it was impossible to make everyone happy, it
was important to hear what people had to say. However, he added, it was
important to find out exactly "how big this national outcry" regarding
our public holidays was. As such, the commission will hold hearings in
five more provinces before presenting a report to the Presidency and
parliament by October.
Among those who made themselves heard at Thursday's hearing was the
African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) who felt the hearing could be
seen as a threat to their religion and vowed to take to the streets if
that was the case. "The ACDP will fight any attempt to change or remove
Christmas or Good Friday. Even if we have to take our fight to the
streets, even if we need to toyi-toyi, march," the party said.
Moreroa hastened to reassure them, saying: "Moenie worrie nie, [Don't
worry], this is not about attacking Christianity." At present, South
Africa had 12 public holidays on the calendar and Moreroa said the
commission had received many complaints that there was a bias favouring
Among the Muslim groups who were present was the Al Jama-ah Party and
the Claremont Main Road mosque who took different views on the
recognition of Eidul Adha and Eidul Fitr as official public holidays.
Party leader, Ganief Hendricks, said when the Public Holidays Act was
debated in 1994, 20 groups were identified as "clamouring" for
recognition of their cultural and religious holidays.
"The way out was to make provisions in the [act] for those communities
to exchange the official public holidays, that they do not embrace, with
holidays dear to their hearts," said Hendricks, adding that the
Employment Equity Act makes provision for employers to consult employees
on making use of the act. According to IOLL, he said the commission was
not doing its job and should have promoted existing legislation instead
of embarking on public hearings..
In its submission, the Claremont Main Road Mosque (CMRM) took a
different position, siding with the position of the United Ulema Council
of South Africa (Uucsa) in saying that the two Eids should recognized as
religious holidays. but not be declared as official public holidays.
Imam Dr Rashid Omar provided two reasons for this position:
"If the government recognizes our two Eids, it will allow Muslim
employees the liberty of celebrating their festive occasions without
fear of jeopardising their employment or of disadvantaging them in
anyway. Furthermore schools and tertiary institutions will be obliged to
ensure that no examinations or critical assessments are scheduled on Eid
days," the alim stated in their submission.
Secondly, he said: "It is not practical to ask the government to make
our two Eids official public holidays, since to be fair to other faith
traditions, it will have to provide similar recognition to them, and
this will only add an unreasonable number of public holidays to an
already congested public holidays schedule. For example, the South
African Hindu Maha Sabha has already called for Deepavali to be declared
a public holiday and the African Christian Democratic Party have called
for the reinstitution of Ascension Day as a public holiday."
As such, CMRM called on Muslims "to build on their wonderful legacy of
creativity and ingenuity in negotiating their Eid leave requests with
their employers amicably. We furthermore, re-affirm the Islamic work
ethic - that labour is an act of worship (`ibada) similar to prayer and
fasting through which an individual can attain the pleasure of God."
Unlike Al-Jama-ah who had taken a swipe at the commission, the CMRM
commend the CRL Commission "for taking on this challenging issue and for
the religious sector and civil society’s constructive engagement in this
consultative process. It is critical that such mutual and cooperative
engagement is lauded and replicated in other spheres of interaction
between government and the citizenry," the CMRM submission concluded.