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Zev Krengel expresses optimism for future of South Africa

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At Chabad House’s hugely successful Miracle Drive fundraiser this year, ZEV KRENGEL, past president of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies, delivered the keynote address. Here is a summary of what he said.
by David Saks | Apr 13, 2016

At the 2015 Heritage Day carnival, various communities, ours included, joined in marching from the Pretoria CBD to the Union Buildings. Each had its own float, but all were part of one big march, moving together towards a common destination.

As I have often stressed, this is one of the great things about South Africa. We live in a country that sees no contradiction between being patriotic citizens while simultaneously affirming one’s own cultural identity.

Unfortunately, not every day is Heritage Day. South Africans returned from their December vacation to the realities of an economy in distress, a nation in uproar and a bitter controversy over social media racism. But if there are causes for concern, this is no reason to despair. All countries have problems, often much worse than ours. We also forget that South Africa has overcome far graver challenges in the past.

I well remember the turbulent 1990s, when political violence threatened to engulf the country. Despite this, we succeeded in negotiating a peaceful, democratic solution.

Amid all the criticism of government, we forget that in the same week in which President (Jacob) Zuma delivered his State of the Nation address, he was taken to the Constitutional Court by opposition parties. This testified to the enduring strength of our democracy, where a robust civil society, free press, political opposition and independent judiciary combine to ensure that no-one is above the law.

In this environment, SA Jewry is thriving as never before. We have a phenomenal Jewish infrastructure, catering for every aspect of Jewish life. Our assimilation rates are low, due in large part to some 85 per cent of Jewish children being educated in Jewish day schools. Nor are we a community concerned only about its own needs. Most of our communal and business organisations have outreach projects. But what truly impress me are the individuals who strive to make a positive difference. 

My role at the SAJBD for nearly two decades has been to build bridges between our community and the broader society and I can attest that I am mostly pushing against an open door. 

We tend to become fixated on nasty incidents, but they are exceptions. There remain huge disparities between ourselves and other Diaspora countries regarding anti-Semitic activity, and when incidents do occur, we have the tools with which to respond - legislation and bodies such as the Equality Courts and Human Rights Commission that protect South Africans from hate and discrimination.

South Africa does nevertheless face serious challenges, and if we are to meet them, we must do so as a united nation. For that to happen, we must foster a culture of respect between our peoples.

Recently, I was part of an Active Citizens initiative calling on South Africans to abide by a Code of Courtesy, co-written by myself, James Motlatsi and Bobby Godsell, which urges people to respect the dignity of their fellow citizens when expressing their views. The Code can be found on the Active Citizens website (  and I encourage everyone to sign on to it. 

1 Comment

  1. 1 nat cheiman 20 Apr
    Challenges can be faced when the ANC and its troupe of blockheads are out of power. 
    Water crisis. Electricity crisis. Post office crisis. SAA crisis. Education crisis. Health crisis. Every metro in SA except for one or 2 are insolvent.
    Government are simpletons. Sleeping in parliament.
    Primary school kids could do no worse.
    The future? See after elections


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