Opening Remarks by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the meeting with Interfaith Leaders, CSIR Convention Centre, Tshwane
Deputy President, Mr David Mabuza
Ministers and Deputy Ministers
Members of the Interfaith Presidential Working Group
Members of the National Religious Leaders Council
Members of the National Interfaith Council of South Africa
Representatives of all faiths and denominations
Members of the media
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is my honour and privilege to welcome you to this critical and timely dialogue.
It is taking place as we approach a period of deep religious significance for people of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths.
We will soon enter the Easter period, which coincides with the Jewish festival of Pesach or Passover, and soon afterwards, the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan will begin.
That these dates are so important to three of the world’s great faiths coincide every year reminds us all of the commonality of our humanity.
And that although there may be doctrinal and other differences among us, we ultimately share the same values.
They are consistent with the founding values of our Constitution: those of human dignity, of the achievement of equality, of non-racialism and non-sexism; and of the advancement of human rights and freedoms for all.
They are anchored by the imperative that has driven communities of faith since the dawn of time – to advance social justice.
We are meeting soon after another occasion of historical significance.
Last week marked 50 years since the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jnr.
Dr King was a towering figure in the US civil rights movement, and his ideas on non-violent resistance to oppression had a great bearing on our own liberation struggle.
In preparing for this meeting I recalled the impact on me personally of one of Dr King’s greatest speeches.
In 1968 he delivered his memorable address in Memphis, Tennessee, in which he declared “I’ve been to the mountaintop”.
It was a dark time, when black men, women and children were being brutalised for demanding their rights to be treated equally.
Dr King said: “The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around.”
“But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough you can see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding.”
In being here today you have responded to the call from your government to join us to bring healing to our nation, at a time when it is confronted by intolerance, racism, violence and other social ills.
In this, the year that we mark 25 years since the founding of our democracy, we have a great deal to be thankful for, and an even greater deal of which we can be proud.
In the past 25 years we have made significant progress in improving the lives of South Africans.
From an oppressive state machinery that had scant regard for the lives and living conditions of millions of our people, we now have a democratic state where all enjoy equal rights and equal protection before the law.
Today, more than ever before, the vast majority of South Africans, and in particularly the poor and the vulnerable, have access to education, to health care and to basic services.
Today, more than ever before, millions of our citizens are protected from abject poverty through progress policies of redistribution.
And yet we know that there is also much of which we cannot be proud. Despite our gains as a country over the past 25 years, we remain a deeply unequal society.
Our children are bullying, attacking, beating, and even killing each other in the schoolyard.
The women and girls of our country no longer feel safe in their homes, on the streets, on public transport and at their places of work.
Incidents of racism and xenophobia are severely testing our commitment to being an inclusive society.
Despite the threat of HIV and Aids, many of our young people are still engaging in unsafe sex, leading to high rates of teenage pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted infections.
Many of our people are abusing alcohol and using drugs, which is causing numerous social problems such as unsafe behaviour on our roads, violence in the home, crime, and truancy.
Citizens protesting against the delivery of services are destroying critical facilities like clinics and schools.
Not a day goes by that we are not confronted by acts of violence and criminality.
Worse yet, these acts are being live-streamed, as social media turns citizens into passive bystanders in the humiliation and degradation of others.
The various commissions of inquiry underway are revealing disturbing and pervasive acts of theft and corruption, and of individuals abusing their positions to enrich themselves instead of serving our citizens.
Trouble is in the land.
We are meeting here today because we are deeply concerned at the erosion of our country’s social fabric.
Racism and intolerance, the abuse of women and girls, the absence of common decency in how we interact with others, the use of violence to settle disputes or grievances – all tell us that we have strayed from our country’s founding values.
This is not the South Africa we fought for.
It is not the South Africa for which many people were jailed and killed.
It is certainly not the South Africa we want to live in.
We are here to explore avenues of collaboration to renew South Africa and to get ourselves back on track.
Perhaps most of all, we are here to discuss how we can work together to undo the effects of our past; for its effects are still with us today, and continue to exert a devastating toll.
Millions of our people, especially in our rural areas, continue to be affected by centuries of land dispossession, of discrimination and of skewed development.
Forced into bantustans, locations and townships, our people languished in poverty, denied the opportunity to perform decent work and put bread on the table for their families.
Entire generations of children grew up in conditions of indigence, deprived of a proper education.
Families were torn apart as parents were separated from their children, and husbands from their wives.
The legacy of influx control and the migrant labour system are one of the reasons why we have one of the world’s highest rates of absentee fathers.
Nearly half of all South African households are headed by a single parent, usually a mother.
As this tragedy is repeated across generations, children are being raised in broken homes.
Boys and young men have sought comfort in the streets, and in gangs as substitute families.
Young women denied the opportunities and benefits of education were forced into menial labour as domestic workers, depriving children of their mother’s care and attention.
Others sought out older men who offer them money and other material goods in return for sexual favours.
Our people were forced to live in areas that had no proper sports fields, no green spaces and parks, and no community centres.
Many of the social problems our communities are facing are as a result of the cruel, systematic process of breaking the spirit of our people that was apartheid.
The faith community played a formative role in our liberation struggle, mobilising communities against apartheid, building resilience through the provision of community and other services, and giving a voice to the disenfranchised.
Today our churches, our mosques, our synagogues and our temples are pillars of society, doing valuable work in education, in feeding the poor and needy, and in being a consistent and powerful voice that speaks out against injustices in our country.
As government, we have always appreciated the role of faith communities in guiding us when we have strayed from our mission to unite and develop our country.
And now you have an equally important role to play in the renewal of our society, and in using your positions to restore basic human values in our society.
The men and women of the faith community have never faltered in their willingness to do their part.
For the betterment of their congregants, yes, but also for the betterment of communities, and for the country as a whole.
It is the excellent work you are already doing in our communities that we want to harness and build upon.
Whether it is in providing education and awareness around alcohol and substance abuse, in offering counselling and support to couples and families, or in mobilising people around anti-crime initiatives, you have been our valued partners as we seek to address these social problems.
What we want is to hear from you on how we can deepen this partnership.
It was collaboration across society that helped bring about the demise of apartheid.
As our faith community stood at the forefront during our days of struggle, so now too do we want you to be at the forefront of a new social movement to renew our society.
As we embark on this endeavour, we want to listen to you, to hear and understand your concerns and for you to spell out your vision.
We want you to tell us what more we can do to assist you in your mission.
When we conclude our deliberations today we want to have planted the seeds for a new era of partnership.
It is an era that must be characterised not such by words, but by deeds.
We remember the words of Chris Hani, a great hero of our people who was cruelly murdered on this day 26 years ago.
“We can't just preach good ideas when concretely life is difficult for the people.”
It is our shared responsibility not only to preach, but to undertake the challenging, but necessary tasks to make the daily lives of our people better.
Today, we will be committing ourselves to a declaration for societal renewal.
This Declaration represents our concern at the rise of social problems in our society that, if not effectively addressed, will reproduce themselves in coming generations.
It recognises the vital role of religious leaders in imparting social values to their congregants.
It acknowledges that government has made a number of interventions to address these social problems, but that there is a need for a greater mobilisation of society to overcome them.
Today, we should declare that we take responsibility to establish a movement that will create a South Africa we all want to live in.
We will work in partnership to advocate for a society rooted in the values enshrined in our Constitution that affirm the worth and dignity of every human being.
We will jointly mobilise communities to end gender-based violence and femicide and create a society where women, girls and boys can live free of this scourge.
Let us work towards a society that is tolerant of diversity in terms of race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.
We will work cooperatively to create a society free from crime, corruption and violence.
We will work jointly to rid the faith-based sector of spiritual abuse and its harmful and illegal consequences.
Let us declare today that we will work to raise awareness around the effects of the harmful use of alcohol and substance abuse.
We will promote strong families where both parents play a role in the inculcation of positive values that lead to healthy, stable communities.
Let us strive to build a society where the rights and dignity of others are respected, and implement spiritual counselling and rehabilitation programmes to heal the nation.
We are a relatively young democracy.
The tree of liberty was planted by our forbearers.
Over the past 25 years it has been watered and nurtured.
We cannot afford to have its roots wither away through intolerance and disrespect – for ourselves, for each other, and for the worth and dignity of every human being.
We must do all we can to ensure our democracy remains sturdy and resilient, that those who come after us will continue to be able to rely on it, to lean in its shade, and to enjoy its benefits and protection.
Let us forge ahead in the spirit of partnership and mutual understanding, for we share a common responsibility and a common goal – to realise a better South Africa for ourselves, for our children, and for the children of tomorrow.
I thank you.