9 september 2003
President Thabo Mbeki wrapped up a hectic schedule of meeting with ordinary South Africans with addresses to religious bodies on Sunday.
On Saturday, Mbeki addressed the Jewish Board of Deputies in Johannesburg, assured them of the government’s continued efforts to stamp out negative attitudes towards the community.
Later on Saturday, the President opened an inaugural convention of South African Hindu organisations in Durban, saying all religions had a role to play in rebuilding the country from the destructive apartheid years.
On Sunday, Mbeki attended the 93rd anniversary celebrations of the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) – an organisation that boasts about four million followers across southern Africa – in Polokwane in Limpopo province.
Although Mbeki did not address the gathering – in line with the Church’s policy of being non-politically aligned – a statement from his office reiterated the government’s stance that all religious groups have a role to play in fighting poverty, moral decay and underdevelopment.
“We, as government, have a responsibility to all people who fall victim to marginalisation, fear and disempowerment, and we cannot allow any section of the community to plunge into a permanent sense of unease and displeasure,” Mbeki told the Jewish Board of Deputies, adding that Jewish people would always have a home in South Africa.
Mbeki told the Hindu community that unlike the apartheid regime, the democratic government recognises all religions and believes that religious organisations must be at the forefront of inculcating religious and moral values in society.
“Given our divided history, religious organisations have an important role to play in the reconstruction and development of our country, especially in the welfare and civil society sectors,” he said.
Mbeki said the Hindu gathering was another tribute to Indian human rights activist Mahatma Ghandi, who fought for the betterment of humanity. “Mahatma Ghandi’s championship of the cause of the harijans teaches us that we must act in support of the poor and marginalised.”
In a statement released ahead of Sunday’s ZCC ceremony, Mbeki said the ZCC and other African churches have an important role to play in efforts to promote an ethical, righteous and moral society.
He added that the Church’s message of peace, Kgotso ga ebe le lona (Peace be with you), “provides an important lesson for all South Africans that together we can forge a peaceful country that can provide food, both material and spiritual, and a better life for all”.