Address by Deputy Minister Ebrahim I Ebrahim to the 40th Anniversary Banquet of the Muslim Youth Movement of South Africa, NMJ Centre, Durban, 26 September 2012

Programme Director
Honoured Guests

As Salaamu Alaikum

Allow me to thank you for inviting me this evening to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Muslim Youth Movement of South Africa. I am indeed humbled and honoured to be asked to address you. I must confess that I am not the best person to review the history of the Muslim Youth Movement of South Africa, given the fact that amongst us this evening there are those who not only established the movement but also contributed to its growth and development.

On a personal note, I am particularly interested in the outcomes of your deliberations over the next two days. As you are aware, the African National Congress is celebrating its centenary celebrations this year and as the ruling party of a democratic government, it seeks to chart a way forward in order that we consolidate the gains we have achieved since 1994, but also ensure that the political power that we have won through the ballot box transcends to economic transformation for all our people. In this regard, I believe civil society organizations as well as religious formations have a critical role to play.  The most recent illustration of this has been the positive role played by the people of religion in negotiating a successful conclusion to the crisis in Marikana.

In contrast to colonial repression and apartheid authoritarian government, democracy allows us to arrive at collective decisions shaped through the active participation of all citizens. Whilst it is not my intention to lecture you all on democratic culture and function, it is essential that we understand our struggle for a democratic government. As a minimum, democracy ensures and includes equal and universal adult suffrage majority rule and guarantees of minority rights, freedom from arbitrary arrests and respect for the rule of law, constitutional guarantees of freedom of assembly and expression, civil and political liberation which guarantees to elect those who decide from among real alternatives and a range of social policies in the field of health, education, child care and basic income, political and civil entitlements.

I have deliberately chosen to raise the above points to illustrate the positive role that the Muslim Youth Movement played in articulating the social, educational, political, and economic expressions of Islam during the most repressive era of the apartheid government.

The establishment of As Salaam Educational Institute, the South African National Zakal Fund, Association of Muslim Accountants and Lawyers AL Qalam Newspaper and the Islamic Medical Association are all projects of the Muslim Youth Movement and remains a source of inspiration to this day for many young Muslim activists. The Muslim Youth Movement also recognised the marginalization of women and black members in the community and accordingly sought to include them in the activities of the organisation.

It was because of the involvement of the MYM in the struggle against apartheid and in the constitution-making process that we were able to establish a new South Africa in which there is a tremendous amount of cultural and religious tolerance.  This contrasts sharply with the religious bigotry and even brutal violence against Muslims that we see in so many non-Muslim countries today, for example in Western Europe and parts of Asia, driven by a crude Islamophobia.  SA Muslims are fortunate to live in a country with such a remarkable degree of religious acceptance and tolerance, which allows us the space to practice our faith in whatever form we wish.  

The challenges facing the Muslim Youth in South Africa today are reflective of the challenges facing the wider community at large.

I would assume that we are all following developments within the ruling party as it approaches its elective conference later this year. Its policy conference earlier this year has set the stage for what many believe to be the second transition of democratic transformation or what others call the economic revolution.

The National Development Plan produced by the National Planning Commission and endorsed by Cabinet recently sets the trajectory to a sustainable growth path of the national economy. Minister Trevor Manuel brought together the best minds of our country to chart a way to a prosperous South Africa. We need to take decisive measures to revive the economy, create jobs, fight corruption and ensure an efficient civil service that delivers on the needs of our people.  As public representatives, we must deliver on the promises of the freedom charter and “a better life for all.” Muslim youth have a key role to play in building a country in country in which there is greater social justice, in line with the core principles of Islam.

I assume you all also expect me to comment on the Arab Spring or what others call the Arab awakening, especially more so since the Muslim Brotherhood was one of the organisations that inspired the Muslim Youth Movement in its formative years. We as government have been seized with the North Africa region ever since the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. Our principled position in respect of Libya was clear and transparent. We opposed NATO bombings of the country and we actively advocated the Africa Union position of African solutions to African problems. Nonetheless, we have recognised the new emergent leadership in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and in our visit to these countries we have offered to assist them on national reconciliation, transitional justice, constitutional building processes and post conflict reconstruction and development of their countries.  We have received delegations from the Muslim Brotherhood, Freedom and Justice Party and Al Nahda Party.

Over and above the bilateral relations, we as the African National Congress are establishing party to party links with these political formations. We expect representations from them to attend the solidarity conference that we are going to host next month.

Speaking on the North Africa region, I must express a sense of disappointment with the Muslim Youth in particular and the community at large generally with their silence on the rights of the Saharawi people to self determination and independence. Whereas, we are vocal and rightly so, on the rights of the Palestinians, we are not as vocal when it comes to the Polisario Front. The issue of the Saharawi people is a matter of decolonization and they have an equal right to self determination and independence. My challenge to you this evening, is to take up the cause of the Saharawi people in as much as you take up the cause of the Palestinians.

The branches of the ANC have taken up the issues of both, Saharawi and the Palestinians, at the recent policy conference, and we expect a strong policy to emerge at the elective conference later this year.

From an international relations perspective, I wish to encourage the youth to look more closely to Africa and like-minded movements within the continent in order that we contribute positively to a better Africa. You may want to revisit the idea of what the Muslim Youth Movement had initiated many years ago when it established the Southern African Islamic Youth Conference as an attempt to bring likeminded organisations  together within a common forum.

Before I conclude, I would like to brief you on my visit to Saudi Arabia earlier this year, where I raised the issue of our Hajj quota with the Minister for Hajj. At the moment, the Saudis are not able to accommodate more pilgrims because of large scale construction works and concerns about overcrowding and safety at Mina. The Saudis have assured us that should extra capacity become available, the King would look favourably on South Africa when making decisions about the global quota. We will continue to lobby actively for more South Africans to be granted visas to perform the Hajj.

As you chart a new programme for the Muslim Youth Movement for the next 40 years, you will have to ask yourselves:

Is our society just?
Has there been real change in attitudes about racism?
What role should Muslims play in the face of the mammoth development task ahead of us?
How do we convince society and especially the youth of the relevance of the movement in a post-apartheid and democratic country?
I am sure that the speakers of conference will address these pertinent issues in their presentation over the next two days.

In conclusion, as I wish you a successful conference over the next two days, I also want to invite you to join us in building a prosperous South Africa, a better Africa and to contribute to a just and equitable world order.






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