Bahai News - STATEMENT TO THE TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION
STATEMENT TO THE TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION
The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of South Africa on
behalf of all the Bahá'ís we represent, is grateful for this
opportunity to share with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission an
understanding of the position and activities of the Bahá'í Community
in South Africa during the apartheid years.
To understand the nature of the response of the Bahá'ís to apartheid,
it is necessary to understand the character of the Bahá'í community,
the overall aims and objectives of the Bahá'í Faith, its modus
operandi, and the global context in which it operates.
The Bahá'íFaith, which is the most recent of the independent world
religions, originated in Iran in 1844. Today the Bahá'í Faith enjoys
a world-wide following in excess of six million people, representing more
than 2100 indigenous tribes, races and ethnic groups residing in more than
120 000 localities, in more than 200 countries and independent territories
around the world.
In South Africa, Bahá'ís reside in some 900 communities. Although
records indicate that the first Bahá'ís to reside in South Africa
arrived in 1911, there was little significant growth until the 1950s.
During the mid 1950s a number of Bahá'í families came to this country
from the United States, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and England to settle
and to introduce the Bahá'íFaith to South Africans.
The hallmark of the Bahá'í community is its diversity - a
characteristic which is highly prized and actively pursued.
The essential teachings of the Bahá'í Faith focus on unity - of God,
of Religion and of humanity. The pivot around which all other Bahá'í
teachings revolve is that of the oneness of the human race. We believe that
this is an essential reality of creation. Its acceptance and application
by the generality of the peoples of the world is not only attainable in this
age but is the sole basis for sustainable peace and security of humanity -
the very Kingdom of God on earth as promised by all the Divine Revelations of
Bahá'ís firmly believe that this kingdom will take the form of a global
society in which all the races, creeds and classes of the world are united as
a single family. The building of this global society is not a mere outburst
of ignorant emotionalism or an expression of a vague and pious hope. It moves
beyond a re awakening of the spirit of brotherhood and goodwill among men,
and the fostering of harmonious cooperation among individual peoples and
cultures. This pursuit calls for an organic change in the structure of our
present day society, a change such as the world has not yet experienced.
And it is towards this goal that the Bahá'í Faith has been working
globally since its inception over 153 years ago - and in South Africa
since the 1950s. Our actions were and remain based on an unshakable
acceptance of the spiritual nature of the individual and thereby the
community and that " religion is the greatest of all means for the
establishment of order in the world and for the peaceful contentment of
all that dwell therein".
True to this teaching, our approach has been and remains to build
communities which strive to put into daily practice fundamental
spiritual aspirations such as love, honesty, moderation, humility,
hospitality, justice, morality, trustworthiness and - above all - unity,
thereby influencing change from the ground up. Without the infusion of
these values into society, no community, however economically prosperous
or intellectually empowered or technologically advanced, can endure.
Abhorring all forms of prejudice and rejecting any system of
segregation, the Bahá'í Faith was introduced on a one to one basis
and the community quietly grew during the apartheid years, without
publicity. Despite the nature of the politics of that time, we
presented our teachings on unity and the oneness of humankind to
prominent individuals in politics, commerce and academia and leaders of
thought including State Presidents. Approaches to individuals and
prominent persons were pursued in order to offer to South Africa a
pathway to peace and justice for all its citizens.
During the apartheid years, both individual Bahá'ís and our
administrative institutions were continually watched by the security
police. The surveillance and investigation by the police was due to the
racially integrated nature of the Bahá'í community and its
activities. However, it would appear that our numbers were too small
and our activities too peaceful to be perceived as a real threat to the
Government of the day.
Our activities did not include opposition to the previous Government for
involvement in partisan politics and opposition to government are
explicitly prohibited by the sacred Texts of our Faith as revealed by
Bahá'u'lláh, the Prophet-Founder of our Faith, even though that
Government be suspicious of and ill disposed to the aims and activities
of the Bahá'ís as was the case in this country.
During the time when the previous Government prohibited integration
within our communities, rather than divide into separate administrative
structures for each population group, we opted to limit membership of
the Bahá'í Administration to the black adherents who were and
remain in the majority of our membership and thereby placed the entire
Bahá'í community under the stewardship of its black membership.
Happily, such policies were eased and we were able once again to have
racially integrated administrative bodies which were and are
democratically elected by and from the entire body of adult adherents of
the Bahá'í Faith.
In the nearly five decades since the Bahá'í Faith was established
in South Africa, through strict adherence to the principles of our
Prophet-Founder we have forged ahead and made a modest beginning toward
realising our vision of unity for South Africa by creating a model which
can be studied and scrutinised and from which we believe valuable
lessons can be learnt. The systematic development of our human
resources was and is a result of great emphasis on spiritual, moral and
ethical aspects of individual and the community life, These include the
sanctity of the family unit, the importance of rendering service to the
community in pursuit of a craft or a profession which contributes
towards prosperity and lend momentum to the elimination of extremes of
poverty and wealth, and the obligation to educate ones children. The
fundamental belief in the equality of men and women, stemming from our
teachings on the oneness of humankind has meant that women in the
Bahá'í community have always taken an active role in all aspects
of the work of the Faith, including national leadership positions.
The pursuit of our objectives of unity and equality has not been without
costs. The "white" Bahá'ís were often ostracized by their white
neighbours for their association with "non-whites". The Black
Bahá'ís were subjected to scorn by their black compatriots for
their lack of political action and their complete integration with their
white Bahá'í brethren. The most tragic loss to our community was
the brutal execution of four of our adherents, at our places of worship,
three in Mdantsane and one in Umtata.
As we move towards the new millennium, our objective remains unchanged
and our vision remains undimmed. However, our sense of urgency to
realise this vision is more acute. Whatever unfolds in the years ahead
in South Africa and the world, the Bahá'ís will continue to
endeavour to establish global and national unity through the infusion of
spiritual values at all levels of society. By developing unified
communities throughout the land, we offer the model for establishing
peace in our country.
Again we thank you for giving us this opportunity.
THE NATIONAL SPIRITUAL ASSEMBLY
OF THE BAHA'IS OF SOUTH AFRICA
©Copyright 1997, NSA of Baha'is of South Africa
Page last updated/revised 022001
Return to the Bahá'í Association's Main Web Page