Monday, 29 March 2021 14:13

By Lehlohonolo Lehana.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has called for caution over the coming Easter weekend and other religious holidays, warning that mass religious gathering could lead to an influx in Covid-19 cases.

Writing in his weekly open letter to the public on Monday (29 March), the president said that religion plays an important role in the lives of millions of South Africans, and congregational worship forms a vital part of their religious practice.

He added that being able to gather for religious services is also a welcome respite from a period of great hardship for individuals, families and communities.

In recognition of this importance, Ramaphosa said that the government has been engaging with the faith community about restrictions.

"I recently had an extremely constructive virtual meeting with leaders of the faith community. These leaders understand and appreciate the very real danger of a new wave of Covid-19 infections.

"Since the outbreak of the pandemic, religious organisations have taken proactive and positive measures to limit the spread of the disease among worshippers."

"In the light of these precautionary measures, a number of religious organisations have asked that some of the existing restrictions on the size of congregations be eased, especially as we prepare for Easter and Ramadan observances."

Ramaphosa said that the government is currently deliberating on these and other issues, and will make an announcement in the coming days.

"We are now at a time where precaution is needed above all. The coronavirus pandemic has not been eliminated, either in our own country or around the world. The threat of a third wave is real and ever-present," the president said.

"International experience has taught us that we should not tempt fate. Many countries have eased restrictions, only for there to be resurgences, necessitating the imposition of even harsher restrictions."

Ramaphosa called on faith communities to 'innovate' in the holding of congregational worship over the upcoming Easter, Passover and Ramadan as they did last year.

Large gatherings, whether religious or otherwise, have the potential to spread the virus, despite the application of measures around social distancing and sanitising, he said.

Over this coming weekend, millions of South Africans will be observing an important tenet of their faith.

"In a country that enshrines the right to religious freedom, all effort must be made to support our people in the exercise of this right. And in exercising this right, we need to make sure that we do not place the rights or the lives of others at risk."

"This is a principle that the religious leaders I met with fully support and appreciate."

However, he noted that for more than a year, we have worked together as a society to contain this pandemic.

"Now as we work to overcome it, we need to reaffirm our shared determination to act responsibly and cautiously.

"In doing so, we will be giving practical effect to the universal messages of hope, salvation, freedom and solidarity that will be spoken of in the churches, synagogues, mosques and homes of our land in the days and weeks ahead."