By Moses Magadza
ALL religions are fundamentally united in purpose and must manifest the fundamental virtues of the Supreme Being humanity serves, which include the quest for human dignity, justice and freedom for all.
This is the view expressed by Ms. Boemo Sekgoma, SADC PF Secretary General, when she closed the Inter-Religious convention that was held in Johannesburg, South Africa from 03-06 December, 2023.
The convention held under the theme, “Faith Change Makers - Affirming Human Dignity, Justice and Freedom for All” drew delegates from different religions as well as different countries.
Ms. Boemo Sekgoma, SADC PF Secretary General, speaks at the end of the Inter-Religious convention that was held in Johannesburg, South Africa from 03-06 December, 2023. Photo: Contributed.
“I salute all of you who have demonstrated by your esteemed presence here that you place a high premium on the role of religion and faith in affirming human dignity, justice and freedom for all,” she said.
She also applauded the delegates saying by agreeing to congregate with other religions which may be different in principle, and collectively seeking solutions to the challenges the world is facing, they had also demonstrated maturity and respect for diversity.
“The issues we are gathered here for require an inflexible political and religious will and an unwavering commitment to making this world a better place for ourselves and posterity to live in,” she stressed as she drew parallels between the SADC PF goals and those of religion.
She told the delegates that the SADC PF was established in 1997 as an autonomous institution of SADC and is headquartered in Windhoek, Namibia.
She said the Forum seeks to bring regional experiences to bear at the national level, to promote best practices in the role of parliaments in regional cooperation and integration as outlined in the SADC Treaty and the Forum Constitution.
She further explained that its main aim is to provide a platform for parliaments and parliamentarians to promote and improve regional integration in the SADC region, through parliamentary involvement.
“My presence here, therefore, is not only to ensure that the voice of the SADC citizens finds expression in global human rights discourse but is also part of our mandate of promoting human rights, gender equality, peace, security and stability which is part of what this convention seeks to achieve.
“Our roles are, therefore, mutually complementary and there is scope for co-operation between the Forum and all the organisations represented here both individually and collectively,” she said.
Highlighting the practical realities that call for action, she gave the example of the tragic effects of the Sudanese conflict which has claimed over 9 000 lives, displaced more than 4,5 million people with a further 1,1 million fleeing to neighbouring countries.
“Sadly, the majority of these refugees were women and young children who have witnessed the horrors of war that children of their age should never be exposed to. Their lives will never be the same again,” she noted.
She said some of them had tragically lost fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers to a war not of their making.
“They have been uprooted from the country they call home, from the only heritage they have known since birth, because of decisions that the politicians and military men make that have far-reaching implications beyond the struggle for power, no matter how justified they may feel it is.
“The haunted look in some of those eyes, the despair in their body language, ought to force us to rethink and remodel how we use the influence that we hold. With great power comes great responsibility. The question is, are we using the political and religious sway and influence that we hold as opinion leaders responsibly?” she asked.
Ms Sekgoma said as Sudanese civil war continues unabated more than six months after the conflict began, for some it is slowly falling off the radar because the focus is now on the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Reports indicate that over 15 000 Palestinians and 1 200 Israelis have died since 07 October underlining the severe human cost of the ongoing conflict.
“The conflict, regrettably, has both political and religious underpinnings and I will pose a sobering question. Is there ever a winner in such a conflict? What is the cost of winning as we understand it?”
She also cited horrors inflicted on humanity by religion, giving as examples the news that last month at least 201 bodies were found at a ranch of a pastor in Kenya who allegedly told his followers to starve to death to meet Jesus.
She said a former deputy preacher of the cult told the New York Times that children were killed first, ordered “to fast in the sun so they would die faster.”
She also cited what came to be infamously known as the Uganda Doomsday Sect, in which authorities believe more than 500 members of the sect known as the Movement for the Restoration of the 10 Commandments of God died in a mass suicide in 2000 when their chapel was set alight and they burned alive.
“From the foregoing, it is evident that the influence of religious leaders and belief should never be downplayed. Religion and belief constitute an important dimension of the identity, values and decision-making processes of individuals and communities.
“As a result, the Inter Parliamentary Union Parliamentary Report on Religion and Belief asserts that, ‘Religious stakeholders can wield an influence comparable to political actors’.”
She said Africa faces a lot of challenges, chief among them, poverty, unconstitutional changes of government, rising incidences of conflict, the ravages of climate change, terrorism and violent extremism, unemployment, migration, energy insecurity and the looming threat of hunger and malnutrition.
Ms Sekgoma said the resolution of these challenges requires a concerted approach by all regardless of religion or political affiliation. She urged political and religious leaders to unite towards a common future for posterity instead of focusing on internecine religious or political conflicts that undermine socio-economic development and disrupt the lives and livelihoods of the citizenry.
According to the SG, the world has also witnessed xenophobia, ethnic, gender-based, racial and political violence, all of which point to intolerance of divergent opinions and discrimination.
“Sadly, as I have already demonstrated, in the majority of instances, there is a lack of leadership from both politicians and religious leaders which has led to such dire consequences,” she explained.
Citing the luminary Mahatma Gandhi of India, she said: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
She added that the late former Vice-President of Zimbabwe, Dr John Landa Nkomo, amplified this by saying: “Change begins with you. Change begins with me. Change begins with all of us.”
Ms Sekgoma said: “Even before we look at what our Parliaments or congregants are doing, we must start by asking ourselves, what are we doing to make this world a better place for our children to live in regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, religion or political affiliation?”
She said as opinion leaders they had a social responsibility to inform, educate and in the process hope to transform society towards a more tolerant, just, equal and inclusive world that respects fundamental human rights and freedoms, including gender equality, that “must start with us and it must start now”.
According to Ms Sekgoma, nations that trample on or fail to protect fundamental human rights, including religious and political freedom and gender equality, provide fertile ground for poverty and insecurity, war and terror as well as violent, radical movements and activities.
She said in recognition of the important role that the religious sector plays in fostering sustainable peace and development, the SADC Parliamentary Forum was open to engagement and partnerships with any faith-based organisations.
“I am pleased to see that as part of the programme there is a session on “Faith in SRHR and Reproductive Justice” because the SADC PF is currently spearheading a Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Project through national Parliaments in the SADC Region.
“The Project seeks to enhance universal access to sexual and reproductive health services to women and girls in the region and partnering with faith-based organizations will assist us to break through some of the barriers erected by religious beliefs that are stalling access to sexual and reproductive health services to those who need the services,” she said.
Quoting Canon Grace Kaiso Ms Sekgoma encouraged her audience: “Let us be a gift to each other” and let us work together for the betterment of this world.
She also urged them to work together to actualize the dream not just of a “genderless language” but a genderless society that gives equal opportunities to all human beings.
“Let us be inspired by the compelling narrative of the Bahai faith, which holds that “War is a true contradiction of the essence of God,” to use the podium and the pulpit to preach peace and end the wars that are riddling this world. In line with YW4A’s operative mantra, let us “Rise Up” today and set unshakeable foundations for inter-religious social justice action. Together we can and Together we will!!” she added.