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South Africans have rights so many other African countries don’t

  • DavidSaksChayaSinger
South Africans take it for granted that they have an inalienable right to freedom of religious belief and practice, which – if necessary – can be legally enforced. This was one of the take home wake up calls Chaya Singer, the SA Jewish Board of Deputies’ lobbyist in Parliament, got when she attended an international programme to promote inter-religious dialogue in Nigeria recently.
by David Saks | May 03, 2018

It was “a culture shock and a never-to-be-forgotten learning experience,” said Singer.

Singer was one of 21 delegates from nine African countries who participated in the workshop, which was held in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, from April 12 to 22. The participating countries were South Africa, Nigeria, the Central African Republic, Zimbabwe, Chad, Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana and Uganda.

The programme took place under the auspices of the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Inter-religious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID). A joint learning initiative of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as well as of Spain and Austria, KAICIID was launched in 2012 as an inter-governmental organisation to promote inter-religious dialogue and to prevent and resolve conflict.

Singer said that it had been fascinating to learn, from what she saw in Nigeria and through interactions with her fellow delegates, how strikingly South Africa differed from many other African countries when it came to issues such as religious freedom and gender equality.

South Africans, she realised, also live in a society whose laws not only recognise, but actively promote, gender equality – allowing women as a matter of course to aspire to senior positions of leadership.

In contrast, the position of different faith communities in other African countries is considerably more precarious, and women find few opportunities for advancement.

Another notable difference singled out by Singer is that the racially charged nature of politics in South Africa is absent in the political life of the other countries represented, given how few whites live there.

Singer was the only white participant on the programme, and for many of her fellow delegates, it was the first time they had met anyone of the Jewish faith.

The KAICIID initiative was not unaffected by the prevailing religious and political tensions in Abuja. A scheduled visit to the various important religious sites around the city, which had been regarded as a critical component of the programme, had to be cancelled because of clashes between local Shi’ite groups and police.

This, together with two other separate incidents – an invasion of Parliament by protesting youths and the kidnapping of a German national in the northern part of the country – further heightened security concerns, resulting in delegates being advised not to leave their hotel.

One of the proposed initiatives discussed during the programme was that a loose network of legislators with an interest in inter-faith dialogue be established within the African Union Parliament. The aim of such a body would be to educate legislators on the value of inter-religious dialogue and encourage and assist them in conducting such events in their constituencies.

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