By Gwynne Robins, Senior Researcher, Cape SAJBD
Our constitution tells us that South Africa belongs to us all, yet there is so much prejudice against those who live in it.
Prejudice against Jews, against Muslims, against Indians, against Chinese, against Africans from other countries, and against the LGBTQIA+ community. We need to learn to live together as fellow human beings, or our youth will be inheriting a society not only rife with poverty, unemployment and a pandemic, but with racism, intolerance and prejudice also added to the mix.
The Board’s Interfaith and Inter-community subcommittee used Youth Day to ask youth from the Baha’i, Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim faiths whether they felt that interfaith understanding mattered and had a role to play in South African society. Some of them had been among the 400 youth from 18 different schools who had participated in Marlene Silbert’s Interfaith Intercultural Youth Intercommunity programme.
Semere Ntshangase, the Baha’i representative and a social science student at UCT, spoke about how difficult it was to find unity when everyone had their own perspective — yet wherever one was in the world, one looked up at the same sky, even though the constellations might be different. They could only implement change if they were united.
Akiba Kassy, a Christian Grade 12 student at Gardens Commercial High, said that she had known so little about other faith communities before joining the Silbert programme, which had helped participants to better understand one another. Interfaith promoted respect for diversity, which South Africa needed.
Merylene Chitharai had a Bachelor of Architecture degree, and was affiliated to the Hindu Youth Network of South Africa and a number of other youth networks. She commented on the significance of peace building, respect and tolerance to help our youth to see the world differently and appreciate the unity in our diversity. Her faith had taught her to be inclusive, to respect dialogue and to lead by example. Interfaith could give us a space where different people could work together to uplift society.
Bram Freedman’s family was the last practising Jewish family in Vereeniging. An Actuarial Science student, he thought the Jewish community lived securely in their own protective bubble, secluded from other communities while ignoring the fact that we have a lot in common. When he had to evacuate his residence during the UCT fire, he chose to move in with a Muslim student. It was Ramadan and he had enjoyed sitting around the table having conversations about beliefs and the Middle East with no feelings of animosity. He said it would be better if South Africans stopped looking at their differences and started to look at what was the same. The youth was the future and needed to break stereotypes and start to engage in dialogue.
Uzair Ben Abraham, a facilitator of Marlene Silbert’s programme, had been a presenter at the Young Leadership Experience Training in the Netherlands, and had participated in the Youth Peace Initiative’s Israeli-Palestinian Exchange presenting the South African experience. A Muslim studying Hebrew at UCT, his BA Hons examined how Aramaic prayers had affected the development of the Hebrew language in the Tanach. Referring to the problems in the Middle East, he said the world was burning and they were trying to put out the fires. He felt despondent that with the best will in the world, people were still misunderstanding each other and evil was happening. Dialogue was a journey and even if other people did not understand you, it could help you understand them better. One could not force dialogue and not everyone was prepared to go on the journey. It could be uncomfortable, but one needed to challenge fixed views in the pursuit of reconciliation and justice.
Although coming from different faith communities, there was a similarity in their world views and in their belief in the importance of dialogue and peace building. If they can help teach others about the importance of interfaith acceptance, perhaps they can make it a safer space for themselves and their own future families.
• Published in the PDF edition of the September 2021 issue – Download here.
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