MANY religious groups believe at least one of their religious holidays should be declared a public holiday and that the existing public holidays are overly skewed towards Christianity - a faith held by more than 70% of South Africans who consider themselves Christian.

This emerged yesterday from a public hearing in Durban - held by the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities - on the subject of religious holidays.

Business organisations have long argued that production suffers from too many political and religious holidays, while many South Africans who are not Christians are forced to take leave, often unpaid leave, so they can observe their religious holidays.

The commission has held hearings in Gauteng and the Free State, and is scheduled to hold another hearing in the Western Cape before making recommendations to Parliament.

The commission's advocate Kgositoi Sedupane said the Department of Home Affairs had failed to take into account the constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights when declaring public holidays.

"Given the superficial argument of the department, and the complaints it received from the public, the commission deems it appropriate that it conduct the consultative process," he said.

Other complaints included that some people were forced to write exams on days holy to them, that the Basic Conditions of Employment Act only recognised Christian religious holidays, and that indigenous African religions had no public holidays.

Ashwin Trikamjee, who spoke on behalf of Hindu s, said they had been asking the government to make Diwali a public holiday for some time, but were told if every religion's important days were accommodated, it would affect economic production.

Mr Trikamjee said one religion should not be given three or four holidays, and others no ne. He said it was not up to Hindus to decide which holidays should be scrapped, but the Hindu community should decide which holy day was most important to them, and this day should be made a public holiday.

weste@bdfm.co.za