Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize

Opening Address by Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize at the 4th National Consultative Conference of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Commission), Saint George Hotel, Pretoria.

Chairperson of the CRL Commission, Ms Xaluva-Mkhwanazi and all Commissioners,

Deputy Minister Obed Bapela

MEC Nandi Mayatula Khoza

Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee Mr Mdakane and all MPs and MPLs present,

Chairperson of the National House of Traditional Leaders and all traditional leaders present,

Leaders of political parties,

Heads of Chapter 9 institutions present,

Chairperson of the Moral Regeneration Movement, Father Simangaliso Mkhatshwa,

Heads of religious formations and institutions from all faiths,

All Academics, Researchers, NGO representatives,

Representatives of the cultural industries sector including our musicians, linguistic experts, writers and others,

Distinguished delegates,

Fellow South Africans,

Good morning to you all!

It is my pleasure to join you at this 4th National Consultative Forum of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities.

The Commission has chosen an appropriate theme, CRL Rights: Your rights; my rights; our responsibility. It reminds us that the promotion of the rights of all citizens and our cultural and religious diversity is our responsibility – each and every one of us.

This Conference is a soul-searching forum for us as South Africans, regarding how far we have gone in promoting the rights to culture, language and religion for all South Africans to their developmental benefit.

As we mark 25 years of freedom this year, we reflect on the achievements scored in achieving reconciliation and in particular in promoting unity in diversity and equality with regards to our religious, cultural and linguistic rights.

This country has a history of inequalities arising from institutionalized and brutally enforced racial discrimination, where some of the cultural, religious and linguistic communities were marginalized, while others enjoyed privileged support from the oppressive apartheid government.

The advent of Constitutional democracy ushered in an exciting and much needed platform for dialogue on cultural, religious, and linguistic diversity in our country. It highlighted the need for the attainment of national unity, peace, stability, tolerance, friendship and respect among ordinary South Africans.

The establishment of the CRL Rights Commission in 2002 was a timely institutional intervention to get South Africa talking and acting on cultural, religious and linguistic diversity.

The Commission provides a platform to bring to life the Constitution which enshrines diversity and the respect for human dignity and the rights of all.

The Commission needs to bring South Africans together to discuss these issues and ensure that our languages, culture, traditions and religious beliefs are respected and celebrated in line with the Constitution and country’s human rights ethos.

Since 1994, our democratic government has through our democratic constitution adopted in 1996, been addressing these inequalities to advance a united, non-racial, non-sexist South Africa, united in its diversity.

The Constitution commits all South Africans to advance a cohesive society, united in its diversity. The Preamble of the Constitution laid a good foundation affirming that; “We the people of South Africa, recognize the injustices of the past… believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity”.

The mandate of the Commission, as stipulated in the CRL Rights Commission Act, is to promote respect for and further the protection of the rights of cultural, religious and linguistic communities and to promote peace and reconciliation among cultural, religious and linguistic communities. It is also to promote the right of communities to develop their heritage.

Act 19 also requires the Commission to convene a regular National Consultative Conference to report on progress that the organs of state and private sector are making in the protection and realisation cultural, religious and linguistic rights of communities.

The Commission is also aimed at reporting on the work the Commission and to create an opportunity for communities to formulate requests and recommendations for implementation by the Commission or government.

This Conference therefore, is a statutory requirement, which affords the nation an opportunity to measure progress on the protection and realization of the rights of cultural, religious and linguistic communities.
The issues that the CRL deals with are pivotal to the achievement of cohesion, social stability and national reconciliation. I will mention a few that must remain high up on the agenda.

Our cultures and languages, including sign language, are our identity. They define who we are and this should form part of our national agenda and discourse to enhance social cohesion.

But we cannot talk about the promotion of our cultures, without addressing some defective aspects such as the wanton abuse of human rights that occur in the name of culture, particularly with regard to women and girl children.

As we celebrate our cultures and traditions, we also condemn certain practices such as the abuse of women and children under the cloak of culture. Practices which deny women their rights to freedom, economic freedom and participation, dignity and self-expression have no place in our democracy. We should thus unite in condemning child marriages and practices such as Ukuthwala which are practiced in the name of culture. All cultures should protect children, women and the vulnerable.

We have to preserve the good aspects of our culture, and abandon harmful ones that contradict the constitution, understanding also that culture is dynamic, that it evolves over time. We should also be ready to refine aspects of our culture which violate the human rights of others.

We are currently working closely with traditional leaders to find ways of curbing the high death rates of initiates in our country, particularly in the Eastern Cape.

Cultural alienation is at the root of the many socio-economic challenges experienced by the black majority in South Africa, especially with regards to languages.

The South African Constitution grants equal status to all the 11 official languages, and thus presents an excellent opportunity for the use of multilingualism in all areas of life. Institutions such as the Pan South African Language Board and the CRL Rights Commission have a critical role to play to elevate all the other official languages to equal status with Afrikaans and English.

Cultural practices should be undertaken in a safe manner that does not put lives at risk. We are united with the National House of Traditional Leaders to ensure that customary initiation takes place safely and in a manner that does not put the lives of young men at risk.

Our nation is also still grappling with the demon of racism. In our debates and deliberations, we should be ready to confront this demon as we need to inculcate the equality of all cultures and racial groups in our country and ensure that in celebrating our diversity, we eliminate any notion of superiority of one race over others or the inferiority of any racial group. Lasting reconciliation will be enhanced by our success in achieving this balance. The CRL Rights Commission is better placed to assist us in taking this debate forward and galvanizing all towards eliminating racism and prejudice.

Government, through the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development has introduced the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill which is being processed by the Justice and Correctional Services Portfolio Committee.

Beyond legislating against racism, we need to openly debate this matter and find one another.

The CRL Rights Commission has also faced a difficult task of coordinating a debate on religious diversity and also to respond to community complaints about unacceptable practices by some church groupings. The nation has also been rocked by serious allegations of sexual abuse in some churches. The country has also seen practices such as spraying people with dangerous aerosol sprays, forcing people to drink vehicle fuel/lubricants or eating grass or rats, these practices must be stopped. These incidents require us to find solutions and successfully tread the line between harmful practices without interfering with religious freedoms.

Our people approach religious institutions to gain spiritual fulfillment and psychological strength especially when they are at their lowest and most vulnerable. Society as a whole not just government alone must unite to protect our people from any abuse or psychological ,physical, sexual, financial or any form of exploitation. Such abuse or exploitation is an infringement of our people’s right to worship or practice their faith or religion. There must be ways to curb excesses that go beyond expected conduct in a normal setting for intended worship. CRL has to investigate such distasteful and unacceptable conduct to protect our people. The name of upright leaders of faith and reputable religious institutions get unnecessarily tainted by charlatans who take advantage of our people on their most vulnerable. Society must protect our people and institutions. Delegates here must come with proposals for how government and parliament can strengthen the religious institutions to ensure all the protection of religious rights for all. No person’s life must be put at risk nor their circumstances put in jeopardy, as a result of any malpractice in the name of faith or religion.

I also learnt from the CRL Commission that there are some religious groups, which still feel marginalized. After 25 years of democracy, this situation cannot be left unattended to.

In building a nation that is united in its diversity, all religions should be afforded equal status, and none should be made to feel marginalized and inferior, particularly indigenous African beliefs, which are inextricably linked to the way of life of the majority.

The country achieved a key milestone at the national conference on racism held in Johannesburg in 2002, where it was resolved that indigenous African belief systems which were subverted and/or suppressed by Apartheid colonialism should be revitalized, developed and promoted. We should ensure that we move forward and not regress in promoting equality.

Attention is also being paid to the religion and other cultural aspects of communities such as the KhoiSan, including their languages. Processes are still under way to legally recognize KhoiSan leadership positions and communities. Tomorrow, the National Assembly is scheduled to consider the Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Bill and the report from the CoGTA Portfolio Committee on amendments proposed by National Council of Provinces on the Bill.

Once approved, the law will go a long in addressing key issues related to Khoi-San and will provide direction and restore their dignity. For the first time, statutory recognition will be accorded to the Khoi-San communities and leaders.

There are very progressive cultural practices predicated on the values of Ubuntu which are uniquely South African. They contribute to social cohesion and nation building. We should safeguard such practices.

Let me take this opportunity to extend our gratitude to the faith based sector and our traditional leaders for their contribution to the social cohesion campaigns, moral regeneration and substance abuse programmes in the country. These sectors, and also the Non-Governmental organisations, play a key role in promoting health awareness and initiatives such as HIV and AIDS campaigns. Government alone cannot achieve social cohesion.

We also acknowledge the contribution of the country’s cultural industries sector – our musicians, writers and others for preserving and helping to promote our cultures and traditions, and in promoting understanding and appreciation of the various cultures.

It is through partnership with key stakeholders such as those that are part of the CRL family, that we can move forward meaningfully and in a sustainable manner. In the words of His Excellency President Ramaphosa, let us grow South Africa together!

Allow me also to thank the outgoing Commission under the leadership of Ms Xaluva-Mkhwanazi for the commendable work and contribution made over the past five years.

Fellow South Africans,

Together let us build a National Democratic Society, a truly united, nonracial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa.

The national elections on the 8th of May, in which we must all participate, provide yet another opportunity of helping the country to advance towards such a society.

We owe to generations to come to play our role in building a South Africa that we can all be proud of.

I wish all delegates here well as we reflect on progress made in the protection and promotion of the rights of cultural, religious and linguistic communities and chart the way forward.

It is my pleasure to declare this 4th National Consultative Conference of the CRL Rights Commission officially open.

I thank you!

Issued by the Ministry of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs

Enquiries: Musa Zondi on 072 800 6449.