By Anees Teladia
Trade unions, religious leaders, community organisations, non-governmental organisations and concerned community members have all begun uniting in an attempt to curb and fight crime – strengthening innocent members of gang-infested communities. This past week, religious leaders and community representatives all gathered for an interfaith dialogue against crime, in Bonteheuwel, an area known to be gang-infested and filled with regular scenes of violence.
It was announced that Mom’s for Justice from Hanover Park will be leading a march to parliament on 1 August. The march will start at the Cape Town Castle at 10am and end at Parliament. Participants of the march who have clothing to spare are urged to bring those items, which will then be stuck to the fence of Parliament, symbolising the struggles of working people in the Cape Flats.
Further, there has been an interfaith service scheduled for 18 August at roughly 2pm. The location and venue are still to be announced, but all religious leaders and communities are asked to attend and support.
President of the Service & Allied Workers Union of South Africa, Wilfred Alcock says communities are at their wits end with gang violence and crime.
“We had complaints from our members who have to travel early to get to their transportation every morning. They get robbed both on the way to work and on their way home. They have to face crime and violence daily, so they are not productive at work. They’re even worried about whether their children are safe when they come home from school,” said a frustrated Alcock.
“We then discussed it amongst ourselves and the leadership… we asked ourselves: who do we look up to during these times of strife?”
The answer to the question, according to Alcock, is religious leaders.
“We saw the need to call an interfaith anti-crime dialogue. We brought together all religions across the Cape Flats.”
“As a trade union, we are trying to facilitate relationships so that our religious groups come out of the confines of the walls of the churches and mosques and go out into the communities. Let us go out and sanctify our communities. Let us call on our spiritual leaders to lead us in the process of restoration and in the moral regeneration of society.”
“Religious leaders need to play a more critical role – they should use their sermons to create awareness and should start with positive messaging…Let us use our churches and mosques as places of refuge.”
Imam of the Claremont Main Road masjid, Dr Rashied Omar added that the loss of lives in the Cape Flats ought to “move” all religious leaders and drive them to contribute more than they already do.
“We have a common text in the Quran, which is also in the Bible. It says: if you kill one human being, without any just cause, it’s as if you have killed all of humankind; if you save one human life, it is as if you have saved all of humankind,” said Imam Omar.
“The sanctity, preservation and reverence of human life is central to our faith commitments. The figures now, in the first six months of 2019 in the Cape Flats, reflect over 1600 people killed…Now, at the end of July, it’s getting close to 2000 human beings that have been killed. It should move us as religious people. What kind of a faith would we have if we are not moved to respond to this kind of challenge?”
Imam Omar then said that while religious leaders do make significant contributions, more can be done.
“Religious leaders are doing a lot of work, but we can do more,” said Imam Omar.
“Cape Town is a very divided city. We have the one side of the city which is affluent and then we have the Cape Flats and townships…
We have religious leaders on both sides and we need to build a bridge between the leaders on each. One of the problems we have is that religious leaders in the suburbs need to go out and offer pastoral support to our Imams and priests in the townships, because they bury people every day. It’s very traumatic for them and their families.”
He also highlighted what he feels is a key issue in the Muslim community at the moment.
“Some of the more important religious leaders tend to run when a government minister organises a meeting…but when community organisations and trade unions call upon us, I think our response must be even greater – power should be on the ground,” he said.
“The role of religious leaders is to hold our government accountable for its political and moral mandate. Our role is to empower our people.”