06 Apr

On March 19, 2024, Naledi Pandor, the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation for South Africa, was in Washington on a visit designed to mend fences that have been tarnished over the last few years over policy matters.

During one of her discussions, the minister made some interesting statements regarding the recent tensions between the United States and South Africa. She would state that it’s ”unfortunate to see South Africa punished over different ideas”, along with “South Africa is a robust democracy”. 

Two additional statements were both intriguing and interconnected. The minister stated that “the US executive branch has a better feel toward South Africa than Congress” plus that it has “huge respect for freedom of religion”. 

The first statement is a thinly veiled rebuke of H.R. 7256 titled ‘The U.S.-South Africa Bilateral Relations Review Act’. This proposed legislation was introduced by Congressman John James, the current chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on African Affairs, along with Congressman Jared Moskowitz of Florida, who has a list of criteria which they feel should warrant a full policy review by the United States. 

One section of the proposed language deals with “South African government interactions with the PRC government” and the ANC interactions with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) undermine South Africa’s constitutional system of governance.

These concerns have manifested in more than one way including: 

The passage by the National Assembly of the highly controversial Prevention and Combating Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill on December 5th 2023 has raised some interesting concerns. Some notable concerns are the vague definitions for terms such as “harm” and “hatred” within this legislation.

Buried in the legislation is the following paragraph: “the bona fide interpretation and proselytizing or espousing of any religious tenet, belief, teaching, doctrine or writings, to the extent that such interpretation and proselytisation does not advocate hatred that constitutes incitement to cause harm, based on one or more of the grounds referred to in subsection (1)(a).” Basically this means that preaching from the Holy Bible can be considered hate speech if it leads to some form of criminal action. FORSA (Freedom of Religion South Africa) released a statement where it chastised the South African Parliament for not strengthening or clarifying this weak religious exemption clause.

How the prosecutions under the pending law are launched could potentially be problematic. According to language within the bill, “Any prosecution in terms of this section must be authorised by the Director of Public Prosecutions having jurisdiction or a person delegated thereto by him or her.” This could lead to some politically motivated prosecutions against a vocal critic of government policy. 

This bill is not the only problematic piece of legislation within the South African National Assembly. 

The second piece of legislation that is still being debated within the National Assembly is the General Intelligence Law Amendments Bill (GILAB) which was introduced as B40-2023. There was language in the bill that needed to be corrected. 

The first area of concern before it was removed was language that would have allowed the intelligence services to conduct security competency tests to those who wanted to start a new religious organization or an NGO. Why this was even considered is a major concern as it appears that there were no adequate reasons why this language was included. Before its removal, the proposed language presented several interesting questions.

First of all this proposed legislation seemed to target new institutions that sought to begin operations. So the questions that naturally come to light include: What about current houses of worship regardless of faith that are currently open? Will they be targeted by the intelligence services regardless of this language being removed? At this time this question has yet to be answered. Secondly, that section did not define what an NGO was. How will the committee define an NGO? Most legislation defines what exactly that term means. For this to be overlooked is a huge red flag. 

The other concern does not involve any pending legislation. In the week before the minister’s visit, there were two high-profile incidents where houses of worship were targeted by suspected criminal elements. The first incident on March 13th saw three Coptic Monks stabbed to death in their monastery outside of Pretoria. Several hours later a Roman Catholic priest was shot and killed in Limpopo.

What would be the motivation for these attacks on the clergy? One tip indicates that hostility towards religion is not the answer. A comment to a query made to a contact in South Africa yielded the following result: “I’m afraid Fr William joins quite a long list of priests murdered in their churches or presbyteries. I can think off-hand of four that I’ve known personally, and many others whom I never met, but heard of. The motive almost always turns out to be money – the notion that churches are full of it from the collection, or that the brass and silver plated candlesticks are made of gold! A sad reflection on our society!”

Do these situations present themselves as an attack on religion in South Africa? Individually, that answer is a NO! Collectively, that answer right now is still no but they suggest that there are issues that need close monitoring. The legislation has been presented as part of an election reform package before the polls on May 29th of this year. That is when the people of South Africa will tell the world how they view events currently playing out in the country.

Scott Morgan

Scott Morgan has been the President of Red Eagle Enterprises since its inception in November 2012. He uses his experience from serving in the U.S. Military to address various projects. Currently based in Washington DC, his firm specializes in US Policy towards Africa focusing on security and religious liberty concerns south of the Sahara. His firm provides content to Juicy Ecumenism which is a project of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, is a co-owner of the Maghreb and Orient Courier and provides content to Dissecting Society and to Militant Wire. His Blog Confused Eagle can be found at confusedeagledc.substack.com
He tweets as (@confusedeagledc)