Pretoria – Prayer space for all religious beliefs and faiths has always been available at Steve Biko Academic Hospital, management said on Monday.
It was responding to the Muslim community’s call on authorities to force the hospital to provide them with prayer facilities.
Allegations were denied that management had ignored calls for prayer space for the past three years.
Representatives of the city’s Muslim community had told the Pretoria News they were tired of praying in corners and other secluded spots they could find around the hospital.
Community representatives filed a complaint with the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural Religious and Linguistic Communities – or CRL Rights Commission – at the weekend, asking it to intervene in the matter.
However, Steve Biko spokesperson Lovey Mogapi said that because the hospital was classified as a public facility, it catered for patients of various cultures, religious faiths, races and ages.
As such, Mogapi said, the hospital complied fully with constitutional laws and human rights and did not discriminate against any specific grouping.
She said the hospital was aware of the Muslim community’s request for a praying facility and had duly responded by making available two prayer facilities for use by all religious beliefs.
In recognition of different religious people working at the hospital and patients treated in the hospital, Mogapi said a prayer room was established on level 8 of the hospital.
Over and above that facility at the hospital, she said, another building located between Tshwane District Hospital and Steve Biko was also made accessible to patients admitted and staff working in the oncology complex.
“This was communicated to the representatives of the Muslim community.”
“As far as management is concerned, there was never an indication that the two prayer areas were not accepted,” she said.
She disputed that space had been created only for the Christian community, indicating it was for all faiths to use.
Mogapi added: “We need to re-emphasise that we haven’t allocated any of the facilities to Christian faith groups but for all religious communities.
“The hospital is still open to suggestions that can be implemented and will not infringe on anyone’s rights.”
The community representatives were also encouraged to conduct a walkabout of the hospital to identify a suitable space to recommend to hospital management.
Social activist Yusuf Abramjee, who filed the complaint with the CRL Rights Commission, said responses by the hospital that space was available for the community and communicated as such was a blatant lie.
Abramjee said the community had written numerous letters, which were ignored by the hospital.
He said: “If we knew there was space available we wouldn’t have filed a complaint to begin with, or had Muslims resorting to praying in corners around the hospital.”
Moulana Abubakir Chouglay, from the Garden Hospital Social Services Pretoria, said he and Abramjee would on Tuesday go and inspect the two areas the hospital claims to have made available.
Chouglay said the hospital had to consider that the Muslim community could not use a generic prayer room with benches as they needed ablution facilities and mats.
He said that as such, there would be a need to indicate that it was a Muslim prayer room.
Abramjee said: “We don’t want the cost of renovations to be at the hospital or government’s expense.”
“The community will pay for the renovations and maintenance and even pay for a caretaker.
“We urge the hospital to provide us the information in writing and we will happily withdraw the complaint with the CRL.”