Centenary of the presence of the Bahá'í Faith in South Africa

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – South Africans from all walks of life gathered at the National Bahá'í Centre to celebrate the 100 year presence of the faith in the country. The community reflected on the role of the early Bahá'ís in promoting unity in a country with a volatile and racially segregated past. The guests gathered celebrated through musical, dramatic and audio-visual presentations capturing the contribution that the Bahá'í community has made to the country over the past century in the areas of racial unity, the moral education of children and junior youth, the promotion of gender equity and inter-faith dialogue.

Guests included the former First lady Mrs. Zanele Mbeki, the Sigcau royal family of the ama Mpondo people, as well as other people of influence such as government officials, members of the diplomatic core, artists, media, academia, corporate, religious leaders and social activists.

Names at end of article

Guests were inspired by the musical performance of the children involved in The Peace Club run by Bahá'ís at Sharonlea Primary School. The Bahá'í Diversity Choir, made up of members from around the country, delighted the gathering with songs sung in various local languages. A Bahá'í youth, Mr. Mlingane Poswayo spoke about the Bahá'í perspective on education and the current activities being offered by Bahá'í communities around South Africa including child moral and spiritual education classes, junior youth empowerment programmes, devotional meetings and adult study circles aimed at building capacities to be of service to the community.

The current chairman of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of South Africa, Mr. Enos Makhele, welcomed all the guests and spoke warmly of the early believers who had laid the foundation for all activities currently taking place. He also shared stories of the early believers in their struggles to operate under the strict apartheid laws, whilst being true to the principle of racial harmony.

Dr. Zacharias, United Nations Resident Co-ordinator spoke about the role that the Bahá'í community has played at the United Nations since its inception until now, and that the idea of an international forum of nations was already called for by Baha’u’llah in the mid 19th century to consult on peace, justice and global unity as the pressing needs of today.

The Former State President Mr. Thabo Mbeki sent a special message to the gathering in which he wished to convey to all members his warm congratulations on their centenary. “We are also greatly encouraged by the fact that as you have responded to the challenges of human development you have sought not only to deliver services but also to nurture the capacity of all human beings to develop themselves, including their morality”. He recalled the important direction that the Faith gave over the years to various governmental programmes and had pointed to the importance of the family unit, the ending of extremes of wealth and poverty and the equality of men and women. Speaking of the many challenges the world is facing his message said “We are honoured and feel greatly strengthened that we have members of the Bahá'í faith in our country and among us to help us respond to this deeply troubling reality”.
H.E. Mrs. Ann Harrap, Australian High Commissionaire in her keynote address also spoke about the pressing challenges of the world today, one of which is the empowerment of women and for which she commended the Bahá'í community for having as a core principle of its faith. Mrs. Harrap said “From a non-Bahá'í perspective, the programme was entertaining, inspirational and educational. I was overwhelmed by how the Bahá'í community has come together to present what they have contributed to South African society over the past 100 years”.

Looking to the future the programme ended with Mrs Tahirih Matthee, Director of the South African Bahá'í Office of External Affairs, announcing the formal launch of a permanent diplomatic office dedicated to engage in all matters relating to human rights and attention being given to the religious persecution of the Bahá'ís in Iran. Ms Nomakhwezi Fudu now serves full-time in the post of Diplomatic Officer and Governmental liason.

See also article published on international Bahá'í News site.

Names of individuals in photograph, from left to right:

  1. Ms Nomakhwezi Fudu, Diplomatic Officer and Governmental Liason representing the South African Baha'i Office of External Affairs
  2. Mrs Kully Zipethe, Secretary - General of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of South Africa
  3. Rev Glynis Goynes, Representative of the Southern African Faith Communities Environmental Institute (SAFCEI)
  4. H.E. Mrs. Ann Harrap, Australian High Commissionaire
  5. Mrs Tahirih Matthee, Director-General representing the South African Baha'i Office of External Affairs
  6. Dr. Zacharias, United Nations Resident Co-ordinator (Pretoria, South Africa)
  7. Former First lady of South Africa ,Mrs. Zanele Mbeki
  8. Mr Mlingane Poswayo, Media liason representing the South African Baha'i Office of External Affairs