The constitution provides for freedom of religion and belief and prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion. The government does not require religious groups to register; however, registered groups receive tax-exempt status. The government’s strict lockdown, imposed in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, included bans on religious gatherings. Police stringently enforced the lockdown, which lasted through Easter and Ramadan, prompting complaints from some religious groups. In May, the President eased restrictions on houses of worship following consultation with the South African Council of Churches. Police broke up several Ramadan gatherings and made arrests, during which they were filmed making disrespectful remarks to worshippers. Authorities addressed several cases regarding the Muslim call to prayer. In August, a Durban man who publicly acknowledged he opposes Islam won a court case restricting the call to prayer from being heard inside his house. In another case, city authorities in Pretoria issued a notice ordering a mosque to stop broadcasting the call to prayer through loudspeakers. In December, the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that the nonrecognition of Muslim marriages was inconsistent with the constitution. The court gave the President and Cabinet 24 months to amend or pass new legislation to ensure recognition of Muslim marriages as valid.
In July, attackers killed five persons and held men, women, and children hostage at the International Pentecostal Holiness Church in Zuurbekom before police and military rescued the hostages, arrested 40 of the attackers, and seized dozens of weapons. The church has been the scene of sporadic violence between factions since the death of its leader in 2016. Police said the attack “may have been motivated by a feud” or power struggle between factions. Media reported a number of incidents of anti-Semitism online. In November, the Randberg magistrate’s court issued an interim order of protection against Jan Lamprecht, described in the press as a white supremacist, vocal Holocaust denier, and staunch neo-Nazi advocate, for online threats against South African Board of Jewish Deputies (SAJBD) vice-chairperson Karen Milner. The SAJBD recorded 69 anti-Semitic incidents during the year. Numerous individuals made anti-Semitic comments verbally, by mail, and across social media throughout the year.
U.S. embassy officials met with religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Jewish, and humanist representatives, to gauge and discuss issues of religious freedom, including cases of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment, and pending draft legislation that remained stalled in committees at year’s end: the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill, the Muslim Marriages Bill, and a proposed draft bill that would require religious institutions to register with the government to operate.