Seventeen – that’s the number of public holidays SA would have if each major religion were granted two. But while this would be welcomed by the religious groups, it could be detrimental to the economy.
If the net of religious public holidays were to be widened, it could cost in the region of R30 billion a year, says Efficient Group chief economist Dawie Roodt.
“Actually, what we need is to decrease the number of holidays,” he said, going as far as to say public holidays should be cancelled altogether.
The debate around observing religious days as public holidays has opened up over the past week as the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities began holding public hearings on the topic around the country.
Currently, Christmas and Easter are the only religious holidays that form part of SA’s 11 annual public holidays, and the SA Council of Churches, among others, has stated it would not be willing to give these up.
“Lots of companies gave (Eid) as an extra day to their Muslim staff, but because of in-house politics, they had to start filling in a leave day,” said Fatima Phillips, personal assistant to the CEO of the Islamic Council of SA. “You would make a lot of Muslims happy if they were given the day,” she added.
Phillips suggested Islam’s two most important days – Eid ul-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadaan, and Eid al-Adha, on which Muslims celebrate with a slaughter of animals – be turned into national holidays.
Sister Dipty Naran, from the Hindu Brahma Kumari’s religious centre, said Diwali and Shivratri were the two most significant holidays on their calendar.
Observant Jews recognise 13 religious days annually, and must take leave on each one. “I certainly don’t think it’s going to be viable to have every faith and every special day accommodated,” said Wendy Kahn, national director of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies. She said they had suggested that instead of making Christmas and Easter holidays, people be given two religious days, of their own choice, each year.