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Op-eds

Board’s election manifesto calls for greater tolerance and civility

  • AboveBoardShaunZagnoev (3)
The next few months will doubtless be dominated by news and discussion about the upcoming national elections scheduled to take place early in May. The South African Jewish Board of Deputies is running a multifaceted pre-election awareness and educational campaign called Make Us Count aimed at involving our community as much as possible in the process.
by SHAUN ZAGNOEV | Jan 17, 2019

The campaign started last year with the drafting and distribution – including to members of Parliament and political party whips – of a document giving the board’s input into the election manifestos of the main political parties. This document highlighted the key areas we believe all parties need to focus their attention on, the involvement of the Jewish community in these issues, and the underlying principles of care and respect for the individual that need to inform how we, as a nation, go about addressing such challenges.

On the last point, we stressed in our manifesto how critical it was for all parties, regardless of difference in aim and ideology, to unite in a commitment to opposing the dissemination of hatred, whether based on race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, or other such grounds.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the birth of democracy in South Africa. In recent years, regrettably, we have strayed far from the spirit of unity and national reconciliation that characterised the early years of the post-apartheid era. While we all need to do whatever we can to restore the values of civility, tolerance, and inclusivity into our national discourse, our political leaders have a special responsibility to lead the way in that regard.

There is nothing wrong with disagreeing, even robustly, with what another person has to say, but at all times, it must be done without resorting to using divisive, insulting, and inflammatory language, especially when it comes to questions of race. I urge our community to observe these standards scrupulously when commenting publicly on the elections and indeed on all issues of broader national concern.

We are conducting a voter-registration drive ahead of voter registration weekend on 26-27 January. This is to encourage community members, in particular first-time voters, to contact their local voting stations to ensure that the relevant information on the voters’ roll is accurate and up to date.

Later, we plan to host public debates between representatives of the main competing parties. We are also once again putting together an interfaith election observer team to assist the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) on polling day.

This initiative, first implemented by the board for the 2009 national and provincial elections, was an inspiring success, with participation by nearly 100 volunteers from across the religious, ethnic and national spectrum, including Jews, Muslims, Christians and foreign nationals from all over Africa. That success has been repeated at all subsequent national and municipal elections. Thus far, we have had an enthusiastic response, and I encourage those interested in taking part to contact Roseanne Rosen at our head offices ([email protected]). Apart from the much-valued assistance it provides to the IEC in fulfilling its mandate to ensure that our elections remain free, fair, and above board, it is a wonderful way to really make oneself a vital, active part of our robust democratic culture.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.

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