The History of the Bahá’í Faith in South Africa

Contributing to South African Society

By the early 1980’s, the Bahá’í community began to take a more vigorous role in the country’s development. When in 1985 the world governing body of the Bahá’í Faith, the Universal House of Justice, released its message The Promise of World Peace, the Bahá’ís of South Africa, along with their sister communities throughout the world, presented it to prominent people in the country including the state President, Pieter Willem Botha. Bahá’ís assisted in monitoring the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994. During the drafting of the new South African Constitution (1996), the Bahá’ís submitted their input and over the years a number of Bahá’í delegations have met and delivered reports and statements to academics, artists, religious and political leaders in South Africa, including Presidents De Klerk, Mandela, Mbeki and Zuma. During President Mandela’s national reconciliation process, Bahá’ís played a significant part in its multi-faith endeavours, including the National Religious Leaders Forum, the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1999, the Independent Forum for Religious Broadcasting, and still today continue to play a prominent role in interfaith forums in South Africa.

The Bahá’í Community has contributed to race unity in South Africa in various ways over the years. In 1992, the Bahá’í National Spiritual Assembly provided input to the Government’s education policy and individual Bahá’ís supported the Department of Education in shaping the life orientation programme in public schools. The National Assembly issued statements in 1994, “Overcoming Racial Prejudice” and in 2001, “Unity in Diversity - A Response to Racism”. The Bahá’ís were also actively engaged in the United Nations Conference on Racism in Durban in 2009.

Other areas in which the Bahá’ís have participated include the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environmental Institute concerned with challenges related to climate change and sustainable development, the Desmond Tutu Diversity Trust, the South African Faith and Family Institute and other organisations such as the South African Women in Dialogue, an initiative of Mrs Zanele Mbeki, contributing to the discourse on gender equality and the advancement of women.

“The twentieth century, the most turbulent in the history of the human race, has reached its end. Dismayed by the deepening moral and social chaos that marked its course, the generality of the world’s peoples are eager to leave behind them the memories of the suffering that these decades brought with them.”

~ The Universal House of Justice