President Cyril Ramaphosa meeting with Leaders of faith communities to discuss the national response to the Coronavirus outbreak at the Sefako M. Makgatho Presidential Guesthouse in Tshwane. Picture: ELMOND JIYANE / GCIS
President Cyril Ramaphosa meeting with Leaders of faith communities to discuss the national response to the Coronavirus outbreak at the Sefako M. Makgatho Presidential Guesthouse in Tshwane. Picture: ELMOND JIYANE / GCIS

President Cyril Ramaphosa has welcomed a decision by inter-faith leaders to cancel their religious services in an effort to  curb the spread of the coronavirus that has infected at least 116 people in SA. The the number of recoveries in the country is not known.

Ramaphosa said the announcements by the Methodist Church that the Good Friday and Easter Sunday services have been cancelled; the Muslim Judicial Council’s decision to cancel the Friday prayer; and the decision by the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) that the annual Moria pilgrimage has been cancelled, “were no doubt reached through great difficulty”.

The ZCC is one of the biggest and fastest-growing churches in Africa and claims a membership of about 5-million.

“We know that the leaders of these faith-based organisations agonised quite a lot before arriving at those decisions,” said Ramaphosa, during his opening address at the inter-faith meeting at Sefako Makgatho presidential guest house in Pretoria on Thursday. “This is something we keenly appreciate. As government, we are working with speed and urgency to restore the country to normality.”

Ramaphosa commended religious leaders for playing a critical role in addressing the Covid-19 crisis.

“Given the positions of authority you occupy in our society, and given the presence of places of worship in every corner of SA, we are now calling on you to be part of addressing one of the most grave, public-health emergencies our country has faced,” he said.

The rapidly spreading Covid-19 has devastated global stock markets, disrupted supply chains and seen countries impose tight curbs on people’s movements to try to slow transmissions and lessen the effect on their health systems.

On Sunday, Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster in response to Covid-19 and banned gatherings of more than 100 people and closed schools, among other sweeping measures.

“Over the past few days, the government has begun implementing a wide range of emergency measures to scale up screening and detection, to limit and contain its spread, and to support the healt care system in dealing with the sick,” the president said. “You will all be aware of the measures we announced relating to border closures, travel restrictions, school closures, quarantine measures and protocols around social-distancing and hygiene control.”

Ramaphosa said they were encouraged by the ongoing discussion among representative bodies to encourage worshippers to limit congregation sizes and to use alternative venues to mosques.

He noted that faith communities are also “harnessing the powers of technology” by livestreaming services through, among other devices, smartphone apps. 

“I have seen the announcements from many faith communities encouraging proper hand-washing, sterilisation of instruments used in religious rituals, and proper procedures to follow when displaying flu-like symptoms,” said Ramaphosa.

The measures being taken, he said, are in line with those already in place elsewhere, including in the Vatican and the Holy Mosque in Mecca.

“The measures we have adopted are in the public interest, and we thank you for understanding this and for ensuring your respective communities are given accurate and timely information.”

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za

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