The premier of South Africa's most populous Gauteng province has told a gathering of faith based organizations the government has no plan to scrap the Easter holidays, but it may seek to regulate churches.
In an era of growing secularization, and in certain countries, growing religious intolerance for minority faiths, some governments are seeking to reduce religious holidays.
The premier of Gauteng province, David Makhura spoke at the Gauteng Faith-Based Organisation Summit in Turffontein, near Johannesburg on Oct. 6.
After his speech he told journalists the government is not ruling out regulating churches, the State-run SABC reported.
This consideration comes after what he termed harmful religious practices in which one church leader fed his congregation human hair, grass, snakes and rats.
"Like many of you, I am deeply concerned by the conduct of some religious leaders who feed on the vulnerability of the children of God who face many difficulties in their daily lives.
"We have seen an increase in people drinking petrol, eating rats or snakes whilst others rape congregants or confess to practicing witchcraft. Together let us find lasting solutions to these scourges," said Makhura.
The Gauteng premier said the decision on regulating churches will be done in consultation with faith based organizations including the shutting down of a church which is believed to be involved in harmful religious practices.
"The sector needs to give us guidance. What are the instruments for self-regulation when they have reached a point that these harmful religious practices needs to be stopped through some instruments like law or we must go and shut down some particular churches?
"I believe in a leadership where we do this together with the sector. I can't rule out that we might get to a point where we have regulation," he said, the South African government news agency reported.
The South African Council of Churches is opposed to the government regulating churches and its Gauteng secretary Rev. Gift Moerane says there is a need for more dialogue.
"We should actually develop a certain framework in terms of the Do's and Don'ts because as people of faith we should agree - the basic principle of every religion is that the rights of every person is important as your right.
"So to make another person drink petrol you are dehumanising that person. It is not something you can find in the Qur'an, Bible – it is wrong."
The FBO summit involved the provincial government and the faith sector seeking to forge religious tolerance and moral regeneration.
Makhura said the government wants to build a "socially cohesive" society that appreciates the values of the other.
He said he was aware of rumors that the government has a policy to scrap the Easter holidays, The Star newspaper reported.
ANC FOUNDED IN A CHURCH
"There is no truth to this. In fact, it is impossible for the ANC [African National Congress] to take such a position; you and I will not allow it. The ANC was founded in a church," Makhura said.
Archbishop William Slattery, the South African Catholic Bishops Conference spokesman, welcomed Makhura's statements.
"If you consider that 73 per cent of the population [of South Africa] is Christian, it was the right thing to do.
"We do not see this as an imposition on other religions, especially on the Muslims who, in fact, have a great respect for Christ.
"We, as a population and country, need times and specific occasions to celebrate these holidays which represent the last surviving remnants for Christians and should be seen as an anchor in their lives," said Slattery.
The Muslim Judicial Council agreed, with spokeswoman Nabeweya Malick welcoming the move.
"In today's society moving more and more towards materialistic things, this is a good move. We need contact with religion. We're all becoming less and less God-conscious.
"I see cancelling religious holidays as removing this consciousness," she said.
She noted, however, the Muslim feast of Eid should also be declared a public holiday as this is another day that raises religious consciousness and promotes harmony.