Various religious groups are pledging their support for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s call for a national day of prayer on Sunday 31 May 2020. They also called on leaders to find ways to spread the message without necessarily congregating.

The country’s largest Rastafari community in Knysna in the Western Cape has called on South Africans to “keep the faith” during the COVID-19 pandemic. They were speaking ahead of Sunday’s National Day of Prayer.

Their holy temple, a place for singing and rejoicing, will once again be abuzz but under strict regulations.

Brother Paul has given some words of encouragement.

“I’d like to just convey from a Rasta perspective that in the words of the emperor of Ethiopia, Emperor Haile Selassie the first, with faith and trust and just cause, David will always slew Goliath. So this is in a sense just words of encouragement to keep the faith.”

This small community has also braved hardships during lockdown. Many, like Brother Paul, are relieved with the relaxed levels of the lockdown.

“And I would just like to seal off with also a reference … I lift my head up to the hills from where comes my refuge. My refuge comes from the Lord and this is again a reference to Psalm 1.21, where it puts into perspective that the Father Almighty is before us and he is behind us as our guide. So, we say go before I, Rastafari, go before I and do the work thyself.”

Strict guidelines are in place. No more than 50 people will be allowed inside the temple. But this community is happy to be able to worship again.

Supports for the initiative

In Cape Town, the Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies says it fully supports President Ramaphosa’s call for a National Day of Prayer. The Muslim Judicial Council says it also supports the initiative.

President Cyril Ramaphosa leads the call for a National Day of Prayer:

The Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies says it understands and recognises the importance of prayer during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has written to the Mayor of Cape Town and Premier of the Western Cap requesting them to make use of the noon gun on Sunday to commemorate the day of prayer.

The Board’s Stuart Diamond says all synagogues in Cape Town will remain closed.

“All the synagogues in the Cape will remain closed. The cape SAJBD, who is steering the communical COVID-19 workstreams, will be meeting with all religious leaders and shul committees to engage further over the latest government gazette and this will be done this upcoming Tuesday. After which a decision taking into consideration the gazette, the Chief Rabbi and leadership will then make a call on whether shuls will be open or not.”

The body has proposed a two-minute moment of silence at noon daily to mourn those who have died and to pray for essential services workers battling the pandemic.

“We understand and recognise the importance of prayer during this period of COVID-19. We have been so grateful to our Rabbis across the Cape who have continued to use digital platforms for continuing religious services as well as Torah learning services which have aided our community and given them strength and a feeling of collectiveness at this time.”

Meanwhile, the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) has called for the deferral of the opening of mosques for another month following consultations with health experts.

“The MJC supports the call by the President his Excellency, for a National Day of Prayer and for a moment where collectively, as South Africans, we stand in front of the Almighty Allah, the creator and sustainer and the nourisher, and we turn to him and begging and seeking from him his mercy upon all of us. As citizens of this country, it is our obligation to join fellow South Africans in that particular opportunity of praying as South Africans,” said the Council’s Moulana Abdul Khaliq Ali.

The MJC has urged mosques situated in areas identified as ‘hotspots’ in the Western Cape to remain closed for congregational prayer until the situation improves.

Meanwhile, some religious bodies caution against the reopening of some places of worship on June 1.

– Additional reporting by Vanessa Poonah