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Public comment urged on religious holidays

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The South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC) are seeking equal consideration for religious holidays of minority faiths, after suggesting the current public holiday calendar is not reflective of the country’s religious diversity. The commission has suggested a level of prejudice in favour of Christianity, with practitioners of the faith receiving two ‘paid holidays’ annually in the form of Good Friday and Christmas. This is as opposed to other religions, who do not receive any form of financial compensation when observing their religious holidays.

Their proposal, which is to be submitted to the Department of Home Affairs, has received support from the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities. The African Christian Democratic Party’s Kenneth Meshoe, has however criticised the move as one that is not reflective of “the values of the majority religion”.

The SALRC has stated that although the two respective Christian holidays fall as part of the Public Holidays Act of 1994, their observance is also in violation of Section 9.3 of the constitution, which stipulates equality for all.

SALRC researcher, Mareen Moloi acknowledged that whilst trying to include paid leave for all holidays across the religious spectrum could yield major issues, particularly in the case of employers, there remains a need for some form of middle route.

“It might not mean giving the other religions a paid holiday. Any decision will depend on the (public) submissions we receive. The main thing here is that Section 9 (of the constitution) should be observed,” she explained.

In addition to Section 9, the current holiday calendar also falls in violation of Section 15 of the constitution, which provides that “everyone has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion.”

According to Moloi, that includes the right of non-Christians to fully observe and celebrate events of significant within their respective religions.

The ACDP represents the biggest challenge to the proposal, with the party suggesting that it could lobby Christians of opposition parties to vote against the move, should the case be brought forth to Parliament.

Moloi has admitted that once the submission has been passed on to Home Affairs, any final decision would be out of their hands.

“The Department will decide what it does with the recommendations of the SALRC. It might take the recommendations to parliament if there is one (recommendation) that there has to be an amendment to the Public Holidays Act,” Moloi said.

Although the submissions period is now closed, the SALRC will be accepting last minute submissions. These can be sent to VOC (Mubeen Banderker)

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