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South African Deputy President Tell Faiths To Adopt Pro-Active Peace Methods

The first regional conference of an African inter-faith initiative for peace started September 30 in Johannesburg, South Africa, with a call for genuine dialogue between religious leaders and their governments in order to safeguard peace and meaningfully contribute to nation building.

By Pauline Mumia

JOHANNESBURG (AANA) October 6 - South African Deputy President, Jacob Zuma, has appealed to African religious communities to help governments in the quest for permanent peace.

He was speaking at the official opening of the Southern African Inter-Faith Conference last Tuesday (September 30).

The conference, which drew more than 60 delegates representing seven major religions from 11 southern African countries, is the first regional follow-up meeting to last year's Inter-Faith Peace Summit in Africa, jointly organised by the Geneva-based Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and other faith-based organisations.

Zuma emphasised that governments could not be expected to work alone towards establishing peace and stability. “This is a multi-sectoral task, requiring every stakeholder within African society”.

The religious community, he said, has an even bigger role to play, given the fact that they reach millions of people each week.

“You are in a position to spread the message of peace and harmony. Give the victims of violence hope and guide belligerents to realise that it is possible to stop war and begin to reconstruct their own lives and their countries,” said the deputy president.

He made a special appeal to religious leaders to assist in reaching out to the leader of Burundi's Party for the Liberation of the Hutu People-National Liberation Force (Palipehutu-FNL), Agathon Rwasa, whose party has not joined the cease-fire process.

Zuma, facilitator for the talks between Burundi's transitional government and Palipehutu-FNL, noted that the days of war in Africa were over. “People are learning that they can solve all problems through dialogue,” he pointed out.

He further appealed to delegates to try and stop political leaders and warlords from recruiting children into armed groups.

“You should use your moral and religious influence to stop the pressuring of children to take up arms,” charged Zuma.

Earlier, LWF General Secretary, Rev Dr Ishmael Noko, who chaired the conference, also urged faith groups to seek ways of forging relationships with their respective governments to resolve conflicts, make peace and contribute to nation building.

He told religious leaders to move away from merely gathering and reacting in the context of specific events, and become pro-active through sustained dialogue.

“Our practical inter-faith co-operation, which at present is intermittent and dictated mostly by external events, could be so much deepened and enhanced through dialogue,” he stressed.

But, he cautioned, religious leaders should refrain from supporting party politics. “There has been a strong tradition of siding with political parties during liberation struggles,” he said.

“But today, for a religious leader to align himself or herself and their institution with one political party among many, compromises one's possible role as a mediator in a conflict situation,” he continued.

Noko called for the establishment of an official instrument or structure through which contact could be maintained between religious communities and national governments in the Southern African region.

He underscored the need to have more young people taking leadership in inter-faith relations and in “efforts to bring about peaceful change in our societies”.

Change, he noted, would only “take place through idealism and enthusiasm, and idealists are usually young people who are prepared to take risks and push beyond boundaries”.

“The idealism and enthusiasm of young people can provide energy and quality to the process,” he added.

He urged the conference participants to recognise the important role of media in advocating inter-faith dialogue and giving public witness of successful examples of inter-faith co-operation.

But he also cautioned against “making peace for the sake of publicity”. The best peacemakers, he stressed, “have a passion for anonymity”.

He expressed hope that the regional conference would ensure that communication would be a core element in the plan of action envisaged from the gathering.

Participants in the September 30-October 1 conference at Kempton Park Conference Centre included religious leaders from African Traditional Religions, Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim faiths.

The theme of the conference was Promoting Peace and Harmony. It focused on the implementation of the visions of last year's Johannesburg Inter-Faith Declaration - Embracing the Gift of Peace.

Southern African countries that attended the conference include Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. There are also representatives from Senegal and Kenya.

Reported by Pauline Mumia
Lutheran World Federation, via Worldwide Faith News.

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