Valhalla mosque fury simmers
Pretoria News - Tensions over the erection of a mosque for the Muslim community in Valhalla have continued to grow following the donation of a piece of land by the City of Tshwane.
This is less than two weeks since the signing over ceremony of the land to the Thaba Tshwane Islamic Centre Trust on April 12 at the Vallies Park Primary School. Social media has been inundated with comments of people decrying the planned erection of a mosque, alleging the community was not consulted about the donation of the land to the trust.
Yet despite the growing tensions over this donation, mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa announced in his State of the Capital Address on Thursday that the council was in full support of the donation of the 10 000m² piece of land valued at R2.9 million.
To foster social cohesion and undermine the effects of the Natives’ Land Act and Group Areas Act, the city had “thus far donated over 170 parcels of land measuring in excess of 861 000m² to religious communities as an important stakeholder in the fight against moral degeneration, drug and substance abuse, crime and corruption”.
Even at the signing of the Deed of Donation to the beneficiaries, a handful of racially motivated individuals sought to disrupt the event by demonstrating outside the venue and interrupting proceedings with the intent of keeping Valhalla free of Indian people and Muslims in particular, he said.
“The democratic project encourages us to ensure no space within the city’s boundaries is designated a racially exclusive enclave.”
Negative comments on various social media platforms have even led community activist Yusuf Abramjee to plead with the SA Human Rights Commission to investigate and take action against persons spewing threats and insults at the Muslim community.
In his plea Abramjee noted that the comments on social media platforms were racial and openly promoted hatred.
“Our Constitution guarantees us free speech but with it comes responsibility. These comments are hurtful incitement to violence, and insulting,” he wrote.
Resident Richard Botha said he did not believe the story that there would be no noise once the mosque was built. There had been no proper consultation with everyone in the community; residents were only informed two days prior of a community meeting discussing the proposed mosque, he said.
“There are old people here in Valhalla who represent four generations of their families; where are they to go?” he said.
Botha said that even during the initial meetings they submitted a petition in October and November 2013 and had not received any response from the city since.
The Freedom Front Plus party said the donation of the land was supposed to be halted until an investigation by the public protector had been concluded.
A complaint was laid with the public protector on behalf of the community by Theuns Botha and Richard Botha in 2014, the party said, noting that proper procedure was not followed and there had not been adequate public participation before the city decided to award the land.
“Despite the pending investigation into the matter, the city signed over the land and chose to ignore the democratic right of the people of Valhalla,” said the FF+.
Botha said the community had resubmitted their petition with just under 3 000 signatures against the erection of the mosque to city manager Jason Ngobeni. “We took our signatures to appeal to the city manager last week and will give him the regulatory time of six weeks to respond to us,” said Botha.
AfriForum head of community safety Ian Cameron said they would be holding a meeting in Valhalla today to look into allegations that proper procedure was not followed.
Cameron said that looking into the donation procedure so far, they had not noted any wrongdoing but they wanted to consult all residents.
“People are quite emotional about the matter. All we want to do is to discuss this matter with them and even explain how procedures work in matters like this.
“We are not against the erection of any cultural or religious institution on the land but just to speak to the community and find a way forward. As long as proper procedures are followed we have no problems with the building of a mosque.”
Against the mosque
Most residents who said they were opposed asked not to be named.
“I’m against it because the whole area is quite peaceful. I respect everyone’s religious beliefs, but when they build a mosque here, they are going to start praying when the sun comes up. I work night shift and that is going to disturb a lot of us. People walk their dogs, children ride their bicycles and play in that open field where they want to build the mosque. Having people driving in and out of here going five times to the mosque to pray is going to disturb the peace. I am not anti-Muslim. But now there will be a lot of traffic. I’d feel the same way if they wanted to erect a Christian church or mall on that land.”
“I have been staying here for 15 years. I came here for the peace and quiet. I don’t think building a mosque here is a good idea. We are not certain if it’s going to be quiet but if they manage that (stop the noise) I will shut up.
“I’ve been a resident here since 2004. They should be careful about building on that land. It is vacant because its a sinkhole area. This building will disturb our peace.
“The government decides without us to give away land. They have ignored the petition we signed in 2013. My concern is the noise. They say they won’t be making noise but we’ll see.
“I’ve been staying here for 22 years and love this place but when they are done they can come and buy my house too if they want it.”
Ahmed Motair, a resident for 10 years, said he was Muslim but was not sure a mosque in Valhalla was a good idea. I am not too much in favour of it, the reason being that the number of Muslims living in the area is rather small. It seems there was no consultation. This is similar to what Sanral did with the e-tolls. I for one was not informed or aware of any meetings. The mayor’s sentiment to break down enclaves created by the former regime is valid but we can’t look at it from that angle alone. Post-apartheid it’s much easier for those considered non-whites to get things they would not have been able to but should we create a situation where something is not warranted but go ahead despite the conflict it would cause.”
For the mosque
Hasim Mohammed, resident for eight years: “It will be easier for us to get to the mosque that’s nearer to us because we have to go all the way to Laudium now. The noise will not affect anyone as it will use transmitters in the houses where the call of prayer will be heard.”
Rahma Saint: “I’ve been staying in Valhalla for the past 15 years. We want to practise our religion in peace. I don’t understand what the big hoo-ha is about. It seems like racism. Church bells go off every Sunday morning and we don’t have an issue with it. People need to be more tolerant. It’s my democratic right to pray in the area I live just like they do.”
Shaida Aboo: “I have only been in Valhalla for seven months and I’m experiencing racism first-hand. My father was Indian and my mother a white Afrikaner so I don’t understand this racism. Islam has whites, blacks, Chinese and is open to anyone. We are not here to invade or take over.”
Mohammed Abdul: Resident since 2004. “We’ve never had problems with our neighbours before, the people have been saying we can go to Laudium but driving back and forth is not ideal. With the growth of Muslims in the area it has become important for us now to pray in a congregation. When we were planning for the mosque we thought about the noise pollution and traffic. We spoke to the councillor and I don’t think she informed the community so I think all this is due to miscommunication. The stuff on social media is getting a bit out of hand.”
Junaid Ismail: “I’ve been living in the area for six years and we can’t be expected to drive to Laudium every time we need to pray. All we want is a place to read and do our prayers in unity. To the negative responses from the so-called white community we only have one thing to tell them about Islam; it means love and peace. We are not part of Islamic State. The social media comments are upsetting.”
Herman de Clercq: “I’ve been here since 1984 and I’m looking forward to the mosque. I was surprised by all the bad press. A lot of people share my sentiments. I’m excited...”