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Voices

Cape interfaith initiatives foster social cohesion

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The inherent danger of adhering to any cause, ideology, or faith system is that it can easily lead to those who don’t subscribe to such beliefs becoming objects of contempt if not outright hostility.

When this happens, dialogue breaks down, and division and conflict almost invariably follows, turning neighbours and potential friends into bitter enemies. For any society, but particularly for those as diverse and historically polarised as our own, the results are profoundly harmful. Instead of coming together as fellow citizens to address common problems, people retire into warring camps, sniping at each other from behind the barriers they have erected while their environment continues to deteriorate.

As is true of all conflict situations – and South Africa’s history is proof of that – the antidote lies in engaging in civil dialogue predicated on mutual respect, tolerance for diversity, and an openness to hearing what the other side has to say. Once people are talking to one another, it becomes possible to clear up misconceptions and find common ground. A key area in which such engagements are taking place is interfaith relations.

Building bridges with other faith communities has long been an important part of the work of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), and has become a particular strength of the SAJBD Cape Council.

Last week was a busy one for our Cape Town colleagues. It began with the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative’s annual United Nations World Interfaith Harmony Week Prayers for the city event in Kalksteenfontein, Cape Flats, where Cape Executive Director Daniel Bloch was one of the speakers.

This was followed by a webinar on climate change held by the Cape Board’s interfaith intercommunity sub-committee and organised by Gwynne Robins, a long-serving professional staff member and executive committee member of the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative. Speakers included Rabbi David Rosen, perhaps the foremost Jewish leader in the global interfaith field today; Bishop Geoff Davies, the founder of the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute; and representatives of the Hindu, Muslim, and Baha’i communities. The following day, Robins attended the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s annual United Nations World Interfaith Harmony Week event on “The role of interfaith in seeking social justice”, having provided information to Mickey Glass, the Jewish panellist, for his presentation.

Initiatives like these help to foster much-needed social cohesion and break down barriers of mistrust between those from different cultural, ethnic, or religious backgrounds. Through them, differences between communities can be turned from potential causes of friction into opportunities for learning and sharing. In the words of the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, himself a globally esteemed proponent of interfaith understanding, “For though my faith isn’t yours and your faith isn’t mine, if we are free to light our flame together, we can banish some of the darkness of the world”. Whether at the organisational level or simply in our individual interactions, this is the kind of South Africa we should all be striving to build.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.

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