7 January 2009

South Africa: Churches Ask Parties to Preach Tolerance

Johannesburg — A CHURCH grouping has expressed its concern about the growing political intolerance in KwaZulu-Natal which may lead to renewed political violence ahead of this year's general election.

Bishop Barry Wood, chairman of the Durban-based church organisation Diakonia Council of Churches, said the hate speech by political leaders was fuelling the situation.

"Our leaders need to speak of tolerance. They need to realise what happened before."

Earlier this week, an Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) youth leader was shot dead in the province. An African National Congress (ANC) meeting addressed by party president Jacob Zuma was reportedly delayed for about an hour in Melmoth this week as IFP members allegedly hijacked the hall.

Thousands of people died in the province as the IFP and ANC clashed from the 1980s to the mid-1990s. No-go area zones were created as both parties prevented each other from campaigning in their strongholds.

Wood said the same episode could repeat itself if leaders continued delivering hate speech. "They can't say anything they like, because people take it literally."

KwaZulu-Natal ANC secretary Senzo Mchunu said last year that the newly formed Congress of the People (COPE) should "rethink" campaigning in the province. He reportedly called on ANC members to defend their party by attending COPE meetings.

Since then a number of COPE meetings in the province have been disrupted by people wearing ANC T-shirts. COPE is expected to hold its first rally in the province on Saturday.

Political analyst Protas Madlala "expects the worst" at Saturday's rally, but he said there would not be widespread political violence in the province.

Wood said his organisation had called on all member churches, including the Roman Catholic, the Anglican Church of Southern Africa and the Orthodox Church to preach tolerance. The organisation had also hosted workshops and talks to promote tolerance.

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