Western Cape health MEC accused of ‘favouring’ Muslims

Christians complain that halal policies exclude non-Islamic suppliers.

The Western Cape’s health MEC, Dr Nomafrench Mbombo, has been accused of discriminating against business owners who are not Muslims. Her ministry allegedly awards tenders only to bidders who have halal certificates and that is being criticised as automatically excluding, for example, Christian suppliers.

One of the requirements for those awarded tenders to supply the Groote Schuur Hospital with food items such as fresh bread and poultry products for a one-year period is a halal certificate. The premises allegedly also have to be certified as halal.

In justifying this, the Western Cape health department claimed in an e-mail to The Citizen that a large number of the hospital’s patients were of the Islamic faith. But the African Christian Democratic Alliance (ACDP) in the Western Cape dismissed their claim, saying the last time they checked, there was a population of only about 2% Muslims in the area.

ACDP Western Cape leader Ferlon Christians said the ministry was discriminating against business owners who were not Muslims. He said they were disqualifying businesses from other religious groups.

“I 100% feel they are discriminating against other businesses and that means if I cannot meet the requirements, I will be disqualified because of my religion. This is not about religion, it’s about business,” he said.

“The ACDP in the Western Cape expresses its concern at what it believes are prejudicial requirements for what clearly is a public tender.

“The tender requirements show a lack of religious intolerance towards businesses that are not selling halaal-certified products, nor operating from halaal-certified premises.

“We believe businesses should openly have the right to tender, irrespective of whether their products are halal or not. Furthermore, the ACDP in the Western Cape feels that all businesses should be treated equally in the tender process because the Groote Schuur Hospital is a medical facility used by people of all religions.”

Mbombo’s spokesperson, Zimkhitha Mqutheni, said the department must cater fairly for all its patients and their requirements.

“Since a large number of patients are of the Muslim faith, the catering must be certified halal. Groote Schuur does not have a separate kitchen where halal meals can be prepared, thus the supplier needs to be halal certified.

“Other faiths are also accommodated. For instance, kosher meals are procured separately,” said Mqutheni, adding that the requirement had been laid down in the Western Cape food policy.

“This practice has been implemented with the purpose of serving patients fairly and not with any intention to discriminate against any vendor. Groote Schuur Hospital is a halal-certified facility by the Hospital Welfare and Muslim Education Movement,” said Mqutheni.

Spokesperson for the Muslim Judicial Council of SA Moulana Shu-aib Appleby said: “I don’t really know the exact population of Muslims in the Western Cape because there are no real statistics.

“There are lots of shops that are halal and the figure is based on observation. When Census SA goes around interviewing people, they do not ask about their religion. A study conducted by UCT in 1996 said there were 200 000 Muslims in the Western Cape.”

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