The Arts and Culture Ministry has sprung to the defence of senior African National Congress member Tony Yengeni, who is under fire from animal lovers over his ritual stabbing of a bull at the weekend.
This is not a matter for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals [SPCA] because it goes much deeper than cruelty to animals, said the ministry on Tuesday.
"It is the constitutional right of all indigenous families, groups and families to perform rituals that they believe reconnect them to their ancestors."
Ministerial spokesperson Sandile Memela rejected criticism of the act as "selective racism that condemns this specific African ritual".
"This is to promote peace of mind and harmonious existence in their lives."
As far as the SPCA is concerned, Yengeni might have committed a criminal offence under the Animal Protection Act.
SPCA spokesperson Andries Venter said once an SPCA investigation is complete, it will be forwarded to police, who will then hand it over the state prosecutor for a decision.
He said that if Yengeni is found guilty, he could face up to 12 months in prison and a maximum fine of R200 000. Yengeni was convicted and jailed for accepting a bribe linked with the country's arms deal. The slaughter was performed as a cleansing ceremony at a house in Guguletu, Cape Town, following his release.
The South African Human Rights Commission also said on Tuesday that allegations of animal cruelty against Yengeni could not be dealt with by simply using criminal law.
"The commission's perspective is that one cannot take a simplistic approach to matters like this," said chairperson Jody Kollapen.
"It goes to the very heart of how people define themselves and how we construct our identity," Kollapen said.
Memela added: "We want to caution some elements in our society who want to rush to condemn those who practice their rituals, especially Africans.
"What Christian religion and history teaches us, for example, is that the ritual of slaughtering can be traced back to the old days of Abraham."
Memela pointed out that in the modern 21st Century society, Muslim and Jewish communities have their own rituals to kill animals to ensure that their meat is halaal and kosher.
"Strangely, this is not considered abnormal and thus their right to do so is rarely questioned.
"But, in the case of the Yengeni family, we observe selective racism that condemns this specific African ritual."
Memela urged South Africans, as a "nation-in-the-making", to accept the multicultural and diverse society that continues to be characterised by differences in how people do things.
"Ironically, this offers us an opportunity to learn more about the things that we have in common and thus contributes to enhancing understanding among all the people ... to contribute to nurturing a spirit of national unity.
"It is for this reason that we want to caution some elements in our society who want to rush to condemn those who practise their rituals, especially Africans."
He said the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities Act came into law in November 2002. -- Sapa