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Freedom of religion claim against mall

The Pavilion shopping mall in Westville, Durban.

The Pavilion shopping mall in Westville, Durban.

Published Apr 3, 2012

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Instead of going to church or spending time with their families, Christians who work at The Pavilion mall in Westville, Durban say they have been “forced” to work on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Those who spoke to The Mercury accused the mall management of not taking the Christian holiday seriously.

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“This is the first time in years that they have not made opening shops on the holiday optional.

“We (Christians) will not get time to go to church or spend time with our families,” a store manager said. “The mall management does not consult us – they just give us a memo. It would be better if they cut the working hours, at least.”

The manager said he had discussed the matter with the Pavilion management and was told that “all” stores would be trading.

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According to a circular from the management, the minimum trading hours are 9am to 7pm on Friday and Sunday.

Carmen Ketley, who works for a clothing shop, said she was a Roman Catholic who always went to church over Easter, but would not be able to do so this year.

“It is really important for Christians to go to church on Good Friday and Easter Sunday,” she said, calling the ruling “inhumane”.

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Tyron Gordon, a cellphone consultant, said: “I have a right to be at church on the day, but I am being forced to work.

“Trading will close at 7pm, and we will get home by 8pm or 9pm and be too tired to go to church.”

Pavilion general manager Nobubele Ncube declined to answer detailed questions on the centre’s public holiday policy, including whether store owners had been compelled to open over Easter.

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She said such details could not be divulged to protect their tenants’ “confidentiality”.

“We confirm that The Pavilion will be trading over the Easter 2012 period,” she said.

Asked if stores had the option not to trade on Friday and Sunday, she replied: “Our statement clearly means that the mall will be trading (on those days).”

However, not all store owners intended complying with the circular.

Rosanne Narandas, owner of Ooh La La boutique at the mall, said she had 11 stores in other shopping centres around the country and trading on Good Friday was optional at those centres.

“This is the first time that the Pavilion management has made trading on Good Friday obligatory. This was done without consulting the tenants,” she said.

“I will not open on Good Friday as I have already consented to my staff’s requests to be off on this day due to their religious commitments. As a Christian myself, I too have commitments over this period.”

Narandas said attempts by the tenants’ association to address the matter had been ignored by the management.

Father Chris Townsend, of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said: “The issue is about being forced to act against our religion, and I would imagine The Pavilion management would not be keen to have that as one of their trading goals. It must be noted that Good Friday is a customary day off/public holiday, but not observed in every country,” he said, adding that the constitution guaranteed freedom of religion.

Durban Chamber of Commerce CEO Andrew Layman said the issue should be covered in the mall’s lease agreement with its tenants.

Gateway and Musgrave centre management said trading on Good Friday was optional at those malls. - The Mercury

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