Once Again, Freedom Of Religion Triumphs In South Africa

Whilst South Africa maybe going through challenging times due to its deteriorating economy, crime statistics at an all-time high, and a possible impasse in the infamous state capture saga, it is imperative for South Africans to not lose focus of the positive aspects present in the country. One such aspect is that of the right to freedom of religion, unapologetically and unreservedly given importance to. 

Section 15 of the South African Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of religion by stating: “Everyone has the right to freedom of religion, conscience, belief, thought and opinion.” Although this right has been enshrined in the Constitution, it is nonetheless our duty, as citizens, to applaud institutions and individuals for the role they play in protecting, promoting and advancing such intrinsic rights, indispensable in safeguarding one of the salient features of any democracy: basic human rights.

Speaking about applauding institutions and individuals, it becomes necessary to applaud and commend the efforts of several religious student organisations at the University of Cape Town (UCT) for being instrumental in protecting and promoting the right to freedom of religion of Muslim and Hindu students at UCT. One such organisation is the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) who, with great zeal and unfaltering commitment towards its member students, left the university with no options but to capitulate to their constitutional demand: to not compel students of Islamic and Hindu religious backgrounds from writing examinations on days of religious holidays, i.e. Eid and Diwali.

For me, an individual who is overly buoyant of the rights in the Bill of Rights, this is indeed a joyous moment and an epitome of the extent of the right to freedom of religion in South Africa.

What makes the efforts of these religious student organisations at UCT, particularly the MSA, even more meritorious, lies in the duration of the campaign by these student organisations to persuade the university to recognise the candid solicitation of Muslim and Hindu students’ right to freedom of religion by bringing about long-awaited policy change in the university’s examination planning. This was evident in Aaliyah Vayej, UCT MSA’s current affairs head, who stated: “We engaged for the past two years with the administration system and office of inclusivity to pragmatically represent diversity and the needs of 27000 students at UCT.” Engaging with the university for two tedious years to recognise the students’ lament, elucidates the student organisations’ perseverance and earnestness towards, not only their member students but also towards their efforts to uphold the rights envisaged in the South African Constitution, the Bill of Rights in particular.

Although the university can and should be criticized for its delay in responding to the students’ demands, its acceptance of these demands through policy change rescinds the resentment of many, myself included.

Whilst this article celebrates the triumph of freedom of religion in the aforementioned scenario, it also calls upon other universities and institutions of higher learning to follow suit, and become instrumental in protecting and promoting the right to freedom of religion — sincerely and fervently.

Mohammed Arai

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