International Religious Freedom Report
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom; however, there is a concern among some Christians about the perceived growing influence of Islam. Reports of violence perpetrated by the People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (PAGAD) have fueled these concerns.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 470,462 square miles and its population is approximately 43,680,000. According to the 1996 census, approximately 87 percent of the population adhere to the Christian faith. Approximately 3 percent of the population indicated that they belong to other religions, including traditional indigenous religions, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Rastafarianism. Approximately 9 percent of the population indicated that they belong to no particular religion or refused to indicate their affiliation.

The African Independent Churches make up the largest grouping of Christian Churches. There are 4,000 or more African Independent Churches, with a total membership of more than 10 million persons. Although these churches originally were founded as breakaways from various mission churches (the so-called Ethiopian churches), the African Independent Churches consist mostly of Zionist or apostolic churches and also include some Pentecostal offshoots. The Zion Christian Church is the largest African Independent Church. The African Independent Churches attract persons from rural and urban areas.

The Nederduits Gereformeerde, or Dutch Reformed, family of churches consists of 3 related churches that represent almost 4 million persons. The Nederduits Gereformeerde Church is the largest of these 3 churches with a total of 1,263 congregations. Its member churches are the United Reformed Church of South Africa and the small Reformed Church in Africa, whose members predominantly are Indian. The Nederduitsch Hervormde and Gereformeerde Churches also are regarded as part of the Dutch Reformed Church family. In recent years, there has been a move away from the Dutch Reformed churches by Afrikaners to charismatic and Baptist churches.

Other established Christian churches include the Roman Catholic Church, which has grown steadily in numbers and influence in recent years and consists of approximately 8.6 percent of the population; the Methodist Church (7 percent); the Church of the Province of South Africa (Anglican, 4 percent); various Lutheran (2.6 percent) and Presbyterian churches (1.8 percent); and the Congregational Church (1 percent). Although they consist of slightly more than 1 percent of the population, the Baptist churches represent a strong church tradition. The largest traditional Pentecostal churches are the Apostolic Faith Mission, the Assemblies of God, and the Full Gospel Church. A number of charismatic churches have been established in recent years. The subsidiary churches of the charismatic churches, together with those of the Hatfield Christian Church in Pretoria, are grouped in the International Fellowship of Christian Churches. The Greek Orthodox and Seventh-Day Adventist Churches also are active.

Approximately 9 percent of the total population claim no affiliation with any formal religious organization. The majority of these persons adhere to traditional indigenous religions. A common feature of the traditional indigenous religions is the importance of ancestors. Ancestors are regarded as part of the community and as indispensable links with the spirit world and the powers that control everyday affairs. Ancestors are not gods, but because they play a key part in bringing about either good or ill fortune, maintaining good relations with them is vital. Followers of traditional indigenous religions also believe that certain practitioners can manipulate the power of the spirits by applying elaborate procedures that are passed down through word-of-mouth. Some practitioners use herbs and other therapeutic techniques; others claim supernatural powers. As a result of close contact with Christianity, many persons find themselves in a transitional phase somewhere between traditional indigenous religions and Christianity.

Nearly half of Indians are Hindus, and the remainder is either Muslim (23 percent) or Christian (20 percent), with a small number of followers of various other religions. The Jewish population is less than 100,000 persons; of these the majority are Orthodox Jews. There has been a slight shift towards the Muslim faith by blacks.

Churches are well attended in both rural and urban areas, and most are staffed adequately by a large number of clerics and officials.

A number of Christian organizations, including the Salvation Army, Promise Keepers, Operation Mobilization, Campus Crusade, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, operate in the country doing missionary work, giving aid, and providing training. The Muslim World League also is active in the country, as is the Zionist International Federation.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels generally protects this right in full, and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors. The Bill of Rights prohibits the State from unfairly discriminating directly or indirectly against anyone on the ground of religion, and it states that persons belonging to a religious community may not be denied the right, with other members of that community, to practice their religion and to form, join, and maintain religious associations. Cases of discrimination against a person on the grounds of religious freedom can be taken to the Constitutional Court.

Christianity is the dominant religion in the country, but no religion is declared the official state religion by law. The ruling party favors no religion in particular and leading members of this party belong to at least three church groupings (Zionist Christian, Roman Catholic, and Methodist churches), in addition to other non-Christian faiths.

Religious groups are not required to be licensed or registered.

The Constitution states that religious instruction at public schools is permitted so long as it is voluntary and religions are treated equally. The current syllabus allows local boards to decide whether to include religious instruction in their schools. Many public schools have dropped religious instruction in practice. In schools that do administer religious instruction, students have the right not to attend the religious instruction, and school authorities respect this right in practice. There are some private religious schools in which religious instruction is required.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

In February 2001, nine pupils were suspended from their high school for wearing dreadlocks. The students claimed that they subscribed to Rastafariansim as a religion, which they claimed requires that adherents grow their hair. The Department of Education allowed the children back into the school and stated that the Department would allow pupils wearing dreadlocks to attend school, if they were members of the Rastafarian religion. The Department asked the school to launch an investigation to determine whether the children were Rastafari in fact.

In November 2000, a candidate attorney asked the Constitutional Court to rule that adult Rastafari should be exempted from the application of statutory provisions that make the possession and use of cannabis illegal and subject to a fine or imprisonment, because the use of cannabis is considered to be part of the practice of Rastafarianism. The candidate attorney was refused admission in 1997 as an attorney on the grounds of convictions for possession and use of cannabis, which is an offence in the country. The Western Cape Director of Public Prosecution has opposed the candidate attorney's application, due to the link between cannabis and violent crime in that province. The case was heard on May 17, 2001, and the judgement was pending at the end of the period covered by this report.

On March 21, 2001, approximately 500,000 persons attended a gathering at Newlands Rugby Stadium in Cape Town that was organized by Christian groups and endorsed by 600 Christian leaders to promote unifying the city and addressing unacceptable levels of crime, violence, poverty, bombings, gangsterism, and drug trafficking through celebration and prayer for divine intervention through the power of gospel. Education Minister Kader Asmal, who spoke at an African National Congress (ANC) gathering in nearby Langa, criticized the gathering as sectarian, divisive, and non-inclusive. Asmal also claimed that a day of great importance, such as Human Rights Day, had been used by the organizers to promote a particular religious viewpoint, rather than the philosophy of the day. Religious leaders, opposition parties, and the media criticized Asmal's comments and accused him, and by extension the ANC, of disrespecting the rights of freedom of association. Asmal apologized repeatedly for his comments, stated that in no way is he opposed to Christianity, and affirmed his commitment to religious freedom.

During the 1998/1999 licensing season, the Independent Broadcasting Authority's Broadcasting Monitoring Complaints Committee found the Muslim Community Radio Station, Radio Islam, guilty of violating its license conditions because, among other things, it refused to allow women to speak on the air. In March 2001, the station applied for and was granted a 12-month temporary license because of compliance with license conditions. The station now has women on its board and also on the air.

Members of the group PAGAD complained that they were the targets of police brutality. PAGAD is an Islamic-oriented community-based organization that engaged in acts of intimidation and violence against some suspected drug dealers, gang leaders, and critics of PAGAD's violent vigilantism, including anti-PAGAD Muslim clerics, academics, and business leaders. PAGAD's earlier tactics of mass marches and drive-by shootings largely have been replaced by pipe-bomb attacks. There was no indication that police targeted PAGAD members for investigation because of their religious affiliation. Some religious communities believe that the Government is too lenient in regards to PAGAD.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

Relations between the various religious communities generally are amicable; however, there is a concern among some Christians about the perceived growing influence of Islam. Reports of violence perpetrated by PAGAD have fueled these concerns.

PAGAD portrays itself as a community organization opposed to crime, gangsterism, and drugs; however, it is known for its violent vigilantism (see Section II). PAGAD also claims to be a multifaith movement, although its orientation is Islamic and the vast majority of its members are Muslim. PAGAD is most active in the Western Cape, but also has branches elsewhere in the country. Surveys indicated that some two-thirds of Muslims supported PAGAD soon after its inception in 1995, but that figure has dropped significantly since; the vast majority of Muslims no longer support PAGAD. While PAGAD continues to lose support when it is linked to violent acts, it gains sympathy whenever high-profile incidents occur that are perceived by the Muslim community to have been acts of discrimination against Muslims.

PAGAD has been influenced heavily by Qibla, a radical Islamic-based political group created in 1979 to promote the establishment of an Islamic state in South Africa. Qibla is organized into cells in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, and its membership is thought to number only a few hundred persons. Qibla leaders dominate the Islamic Unity Convention, an umbrella body formed in 1994 that claims to represent more than 200 small Muslim organizations.

Urban terrorism increased in the Western Cape during the period covered by this report. A trial was ongoing at the end of the period covered by this report in the Cape High Court, in which 3 PAGAD members face 138 charges linked to urban terrorism in Cape Town in the past 5 years. On May 14, 2001, another trial began in Cape High Court against five PAGAD members accused of public violence, attempted murder, and murder, including the murder of gang leader Rashaad Staggie. The five members are being prosecuted for events that took place in 1996. The trial was ongoing at the end of the period covered by this report. PAGAD also has been linked to plans to kill court presiding officers, prosecutors, and witnesses. In September 2000, magistrate Pieter Theron, who was hearing a case against PAGAD members, was killed in a drive-by shooting outside of his home in Cape Town. In December 2000, two prosecution witnesses in a case against PAGAD members were killed.

In January 1997, a mosque in Rustenberg was struck in a series of bombings that also struck a post office and general store and injured two persons. Three individuals were convicted of these attacks and in March 2001, were sentenced to 10 to 13 years in prison. They appealed the sentences, but the appeal was not heard by the end of the period covered by this report.

The trial of four suspects in the 1998 bombing of a synagogue in Wynberg has been postponed until September 2001.

There were occasional reports of killings linked to the continued practice of witchcraft in some rural areas. In the Northern Province, where traditional beliefs regarding witchcraft remain strong, officials reported dozens of killings of persons suspected of witchcraft. The Government has instituted educational programs to prevent such actions.

There are many official and unofficial bilateral and multilateral ecumenical contacts between the various churches. The largest of these is the South African Council of Churches (SACC), which represents the Methodist Church, the Church of the Province of South Africa (Anglican), various Lutheran and Presbyterian churches, and the Congregational Church, among others. The major traditional indigenous religions, most of the Afrikaans-language churches, and the Pentecostal and charismatic churches are not members of the SACC and usually have their own coordinating and liaison bodies. The Roman Catholic Church's relationship with other churches is becoming more relaxed, and it works closely with other churches on the socio-political front.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. Representatives of the U.S. Embassy have frequent contact with leaders and members of all religious communities in the country.

[This is a mobile copy of South Africa]