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Possible revision of Christian public holidays

11 June 2012

The Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities will be holding public meetings later in June to discuss the desirability of retaining Christian public holidays because some have complained that these favour Christianity and discriminate unfairly against other religions. Christian public holidays face revision – Sowetan LIVE:

The public discussion meetings will take place in Gauteng, the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State, according to a statement from the commission.

A number of “complaints and requests” have been received by the commission, concerning the fact that SA’s public holidays only acknowledge Christianity and discriminate unfairly against other religions.

As far as I am aware the only public holidays with Christian links are Good Friday and Christmas Day.

I read some comments from a Christian friend on Facebook urging that these holidays should be abolished and that Christians who want to observe those days as holidays should take those days as leave, which would show how sincere they are about them, and in some of the following comments by various people it was noted that these holidays affected business badly, and was destructive to the economy (I won’t link to it because Facebook is only visible to people who are members of Facebook).

I don’t have a dog in this particular fight really, because our Good Friday generally falls on a different day from the Western one, and my wife and children take leave then, or rearrange their work schedule, and I used to do that when I was working full-time too.

But that is easy to do when you are comfortable and white and middle class. It is not so easy for black working-class Christians, most of whom take Good Friday, in particular, very seriously indeed.

About 75% of South Africa’s population have claimed in censues to be Christian, and while not all take their faith seriously, quite a large number do, and most of those who do are poor and black, and make a considerable effort to go to church gatherings on Good Friday. And with Easter Monday also being a public holiday it makes it possible for churches to gather in ways not otherwise possible.

The Zion Christian Church’s Easter gatherings, when millions gather at Moria in Limpopo province,  are well known, because it is the biggest Christian denomination in the country, but there are thousands of other denominations that hold similar gatherings.

I suspect that those who complain about this as “unfair religious discrimination” are a tiny minority of people who are probably, most of them, fairly well-off. And the ones who think that having these holidays is bad for business seem to me to be coming perilously close to wanting to make the worship of Mammon the established religion in the country, to which everything else has to give way.

I think the main effect of such a move would be to unfairly discriminate against people who are poor and black.

It would be very interesting to see what would happen to such a proposal if the ZCC, for example, urged its members not to vote for any political party that proposed it. And if other denominations were to join in it could perhaps have a c0nsiderable political effect.

Of course it hasn’t reached the point of being a definite proposal yet, and for the moment the Commission is still collecting submissions and holding public meetings to discuss the desirability of changing things. If you are interested in making a submission to the commission you may do so here.

I suppose that, as an Orthodox Christian, I could complain that observing Western Good Friday as a public holiday is unfair discrimination. Of course we do have Christmas, except that Orthodox Christians on the Old Calendar observe Christmas on 7th January, which is not a public holiday in South Africa.

But I won’t complain, for the reasons given above.

We Orthodox Christians are a minority, and demanding that Western Good Friday be dropped as discriminatory when it is observed by millions of South African Christians would be remarkably selfish. And it would be discriminatory primarily against those who are poor and black. It would be racist. It would mess up the lives of thousands of real people for the sake of a legalistic observance of an abstract principle that isn’t really being damaged by it anyway.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 12 June 2012 3:14 am

    In a pluralist democracy, I don’t believe Christians can claim rights over and above other religions. And I certainly don’t believe we can claim those rights when businesses are allowed to trade on Good Friday (even in the USA this happens) and on Christmas Day (if it’s not happening now, it won’t be long).

    What are public holidays? They are days when we don’t work. It also used to be days when we didn’t trade. This means that they form part of workplace rights and conditions. In Australia, we are hanging on by the skin of our teeth to penalty rates for working on public holidays.

    What could happen is that, if there are only two days of religious significance celebrated as public holidays, then industrial laws and agreements could be altered to make the entitlement of those two days flexible. In short employees could notify their employers of the two days of religious significance they will take as public holidays. These holidays should not be able to be “cashed out” – because that could be the thin edge of the wedge in a number of ways. People who don’t practice a religion would still have to nominate particular religious public holidays they would observe.

    I don’t think this is a big deal. Any difficulties are there only as people choose to make them.

  2. 12 June 2012 7:14 am

    Yes, and I made somewhat similar proposals at the time our constitution was being drawn up and the matter was being widely debated. The problem is that it sounds terribly reasonable from a comfortable white urban middle-class point of view, and would in actual practice be terribly unfair on many churches to which a substantial proportion of poor black people belong. It’s Whiteness 2.0.

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