This statement was presented by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of South Africa to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on November 19, 1997.
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'í Faith, 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'í Faith 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 the past.
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 reawakening 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 a 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'll*aacute;h, 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 scrutinized 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 one's 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 neighbors 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 endeavor 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 BAHÁ'ÍS OF SOUTH AFRICA
©Copyright, National Spiritual Assembly of the
Bahá'ís of South Africa