28.08.2019

The Role of Partnership in Achieving Freedom of Religion or Belief

PaRD members held a side event on the margins of the 2019 Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, DC.

Plenary of the event.

The event was generously hosted by the United States Institute for Peace (USIP) and supported by USAID in Washington D.C., USA. 

Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) has been a cornerstone of inclusive societies and polities since ancient times. It is intrinsically linked to other fundamental rights such as freedom of speech, of the press, and of assembly. Today, many countries around the world recognize FoRB as a Human Right, which does not stand alone, but needs to be guaranteed through linkages with other Human Rights.

Following the welcoming remarks by Peter Prove (World Council of Churches/Member of PaRD Steering Group), H. Em. Archbishop Thabo C. Makgoba, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town and Primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa gave the keynote address on “Shrinking Spaces for Civil Society Actors – Can Religions and FBOs Help?”. Please read the full keynote below this article.

We can never, in any situation or country, take for granted that civil society actors and faith communities will be allowed the necessary space in which to fulfil their missions – we have to be vigilant and vigorously assert our right to claim that space. H. Em. Archbishop Thabo C. Makgoba

The Archbishop further noted the central and proactive role religious actors had played in South Africa during its struggle for democracy and how it has ultimately been successful, precisely because of the global alliances who jointly lobbied for political change, including churches, inter-faith groups, unions and civil society groups. This successful case-study should be a reminder on how important partnership is, especially between the Global North and South, who are co-responsible for each other’s future. 

Following up on the Archbishop's words, Jan Figél (MEP and EU Special Envoy for the promotion of FoRB) gave a brief introduction to the EU perspective on FoRB. He emphasized the crucial roles for multi-stakeholder-partnerships in promoting FoRB. The presentation was then followed by a panel discussion, moderated by Prof. Mohammed Abu-Nimer (KAICIID), featuring Sharon Rosen (Search for Common Ground), Virginia Farris (USCCB), Susan Hayward (USIP) as well as Dr. Mohamed Elsanousi (The Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers). Through this panel, a discussion was sparked on the role of multi-stakeholder-partnerships to advance FoRB by providing examples from the field, linking it to existing initiatives in development cooperation, and discussing the nexus between religious literacy and FoRB literacy.

The event was closed by Kirsten Evans (Director of the Center for Faith & Opportunity Initiatives, USAID and governmental PaRD Co-Chair), highlighting the need to further promote FoRB by including the engagement of governmental and intergovernmental entities, faith-based actors and civil society organisations.

This event provided crucial insights on the importance of space for civil society. This topic was also at the heart of the 2019 PaRD General Assembly of Members' keynote address by Rev. Dr. Kenneth Mtata titled Shrinking Space for Civil Society and the Role of Religious Actors. PaRD members hope to continue to feature such prominent voices from the Global South on this critical issue in the months and years to come.


Full text of the keynote address by H. Em. Archbishop Thabo C. Makgoba:

Thank you for the privilege of inviting me to address you; although I come out of a very specific context of faith, of action for democracy and development, and of the free expression of religious faith, I hope that an account of our experiences in the southern part of Africa will find resonance in some of your experiences, and perhaps even be of some help if considered within your own unique contexts.

Let me begin my reflection by emphasizing that although religions and faith-based organisations have a unique identity, I see them as being an integral part of wider civil society. Because of their faith-based nature, they can play a special role in civil society but remain an integral part nevertheless. I also want to emphasize that we can never, in any situation or country, take for granted that civil society actors and faith communities will be allowed the necessary space in which to fulfill their missions – we have to be vigilant and vigorously assert our right to claim that space.

In my own country, even under the most oppressive and authoritarian legislation and measures to defend apartheid and prevent democratisation, faith communities have asserted the right to provide the space in which civil society as a whole can campaign for a just society. Across many countries, churches, mosques and temples translate into practical form their prophetic vision and provide the means, both physically and  intellectually, that enable civil society initiatives and networks to do their work. We saw this, for example, in the late 1980s both in Germany and in South Africa, when the churches worked with others to support pro-democracy demonstrations in Leipzig and many South African cities and towns.

Claiming space for civil action and real democratic participation is not dependent on external conditions – it depends on whether we understand and accept the responsibility to lead and guide a transformation process to achieve more social, economic and ecological justice.

The struggle for democracy in South Africa was successful because of global alliances of collaboration: internationally, grassroots religious movements around the world united in their efforts to lobby for political change; within South Africa, strong cooperation between churches, inter-faith groups, unions and civil society groups all campaigned for fundamental change. South Africa thus represents a unique case study where we see how religious freedom enabled inter-faith cooperation and understanding to emerge and campaign for an open, democratic society where the fundamental dignity, equality and right to equal opportunities of all citizens are guaranteed.

What have we learned after 25 years of democracy?

The history of cooperation between churches, different religions and NGOs is repeating itself in our democratic dispensation: they act as custodians for the struggle to realize the rights of the marginalized and the most vulnerable.

Reflecting on “What does it mean that we have a constitutional state?” a member of our Constitutional Court, Justice Edwin Cameron has said:

“… the Constitution is not self-executing. It needs us to give it life – us, the citizens and inhabitants of South Africa, young and old, male and female, rural and urban, township and suburb dwellers. The Constitution creates the practical structures that enable the rest of us – you and me, together with principled, honest leadership, a committed government, an active citizenry and vigorous civil society institutions – to perfect our future” 

Formal collaboration and cooperation between religious, ecumenical or church networks, NGOs and governments are a fundamental part of how civil society should operate today. And formal cooperation between faith institutions and NGOs in the Global North and Global South is needed to counter some of the negative developments in international development cooperation, such as the donor policies which threaten the survival of NGOs and many faith-based social programmes in the South.

In an earlier input at this forum, I emphasised the global challenge for political leadership: to shape public policy in such a way that it facilitates active citizenship; that political leaders should not try to control or implement everything through state institutions, nor should they bow to powerful, elitist lobby groups, whether political, or business.

 It is also the function of political leadership to create policies that nurture and facilitate collaboration between different sectors: government, religious networks, business, labour and civil society groups – especially with regard to the promotion of health services, social services and education.

Turning to the International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development, we see its goal as being to bridge two global divides: firstly, facilitating closer cooperation and understanding between governmental  structures, religious institutions and networks of faith-based organisations. This is a daunting task, but critical if we are to realize sustainable development. Governments have political authority to control financial resources, but they need religious networks and NGOs working at local and grassroots level to ensure that social, education and health programmes have the necessary impact. 

Secondly, we need meaningful cooperation between the Global North and the Global South. This too is a daunting challenge but if we do not succeed in establishing such cooperation we cannot achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Our destinies are linked: we are co-responsible for one another’s future.

If we fail, we cannot build stable democracies and advance economic inclusion in the South – and you will not be able to build high enough walls in the North to stop the migration of desperate people looking for a better life, a chance of survival.

Can our cooperation through PaRD manage to turn around the substantial decrease in funding available for development, and influence the priorities and conditions attached to development agreements?

As institutions of faith, we must be facilitators of hope, social justice and practical local solutions. That is why in South Africa I have launched a process in the mining sector of what we call “courageous conversations”, a process in which we acknowledge the serious challenges presented by the legacy of the economic and labour practices of the mining industry, as well as the environmental impact of mining on surrounding communities.

In convening these conversations, we have as religious leaders been able to act as brokers uniquely able to convene all role players at the same table in order to talk to one another openly and frankly in the quest for practical solutions. We have done so because if we cannot find solutions, the South Africa of tomorrow will be as unsustainable for our children and grandchildren as the South Africa of the apartheid past.

Let me conclude with the words of a leading South African politician and business executive. In a recommendation supporting the establishment of an Ecumenical Academy in our country, Trevor Manuel, a former Minister of Finance and now a Special Investment Envoy to the president, said the following:

"In the struggle against apartheid, the ecumenical church played a formidable role as an inspiration to struggle for justice and a refuge from injustice."

He continued that after apartheid had ended,

"Perhaps the nation thought it could dispense with the central pillar of a caring church. A consequence of our democracy is that there has been a shift to instant gratification. Our values as a people are under severe threat. The task of nation building anew needs a people who care, who respect, who trust and who build. The only institution that can lead this process is a caring and rooted church/religion  focused on value, and inspired by courage. … The fruits of our struggle are too precious to waste."

Those of us who are faith leaders would contend that this applies as much to other developing and developed countries across the globe as to South Africa.

Thank you for this opportunity to speak and for listening to me.