In another twist involving the public protector’s office‚ the Minister of Co-operative Governance an.
THE Pietermaritzburg high court is today expected to rule on the application brought before it by Animal Rights Africa against the scheduled ukweshwama ceremony that is honoured annually by millions of Zulu people.
The animal rights activist group (ARA) contends that this traditional practice, in which warriors kill a beast to mark the first fruits before the crops are harvested, represents the worst form of animal cruelty and must be altered.
Similar concerns have been raised in the past by other groupings seeking to influence, one way or the other, the manner in which African people conduct traditional ceremonies, particularly in cases where animals are involved.
For hundreds of years, the apartheid and colonial systems sought to relegate the cultural and traditional practices of the majority of South Africans to the humiliating levels of lowliness.
Millions of black people, Africans in particular, were dictated to on how to conduct their cultures and a foreign way of living was imposed on them.
One wishes not to pronounce on or enter into a debate on the merit or demerit of the case, but the decision to take the matter to court even before it could be exhausted through other available platforms established in terms of the Constitution, such as Parliament, was premature and ill-advised.
Similarly, the manner in which the ARA sought to approach this sensitive and sacrosanct customary practice was indecorous.
Firstly, while there is no question about the paramount role the courts play in our constitutional democracy, they might not be the appropriate platform for resolving complex and sensitive matters such as ukweshwama.
The ARA's decision in this regard sets a worrying precedent in that those with huge financial resources can dictate to others how their age-old traditional customs should be conducted, as was the case during the apartheid and colonial eras.
This does not augur well for the harmonious coexistence of diverse cultural, traditional and religious practices in our society.
As the presiding judge in the case, Judge Nic van der Reyden, said on Tuesday, the case might have consequences that are too dire to contemplate.
Secondly, the ARA's approach of isolating one practice from a totality of similar practices across all racial groupings for critiquing might breed an atmosphere that is inimical to cultural tolerance and national unity.
The slaughtering of animals for traditional or religious purposes is a custom that is practised across many racial groups. Any debate on this matter must therefore be approached holistically rather than limiting it to one racial group.
One can only hope that the judge will today rule that this matter be referred to Parliament or the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Commission), where it will receive appropriate attention.
Parliament will ensure that the matter is dealt with holistically and in a manner that promotes the equal coexistence and enjoyment of diverse cultures, languages, traditions and historical heritages of all our people.
This activist Parliament, to which we have committed ourselves, will also ensure that the views of all communities, including those residing in remote and rural villages, are sought.
This will ensure that not only the privileged few, who in most instances represent the minority interests and enjoy huge financial resources, get an opportunity to canvass their views.
l The writer is ANC chief whip and chairperson of the Commission on Religious and Cultural Affairs