In spite of its small percentage of Muslims, South Africa has emerged as a leader in the halal food industry. Thanks to a highly advanced halal certification programme, the country has become one of the five largest producers of halal products worldwide.
And because it comprises 25 per cent of the African continent's gross domestic product (GDP), significant opportunities exist for halal trade throughout Africa.
The story of this development is intricately entwined with South Africa's unique and painful history, as the fight against apartheid gained momentum in the second half of the last century.
Halal certification was introduced in the 1960s, under the supervision of the Ulama (religious leader of the Muslim community), but was limited to meat slaughterhouses and abattoirs.
The Muslim Judicial Council (M.J.C.), established in Cape Town in 1945, was the first halal authority in the continent of Africa, and has been certifying halal products for more than 50 years.
In the 1970s, oversight was extended to poultry, and in the 1980s to other consumables. In 1996, the South African National Halal Authority (SANHA) established itself as another pre-eminent halal certification body.
This is despite the fact that South Africa's Muslim community is not large. For instance, Pretoria, one of the country's three capital cities, is home to a population of around 50 million, of which 79 per cent are Christian, two per cent Muslim, 0.1 per cent Jewish, 1.2 per cent Hindu, 3.7 per cent other beliefs, and 14 per cent with no religious affiliation. The Muslim population is estimated to be 1.2 million officially, and over two million unofficially.
Throughout history, three waves of Muslim immigrants came to South Africa. The Indonesian Muslims were the first to arrive in the 1650s from Java and Sumatra. They came as political prisoners of Dutch colonialists, and included many artisans. Around half the Muslims residing in South Africa today are the "Cape Malay" Muslims of the Cape area, especially Western Cape, and they've played a major role in the fight against oppression.
Indian Muslims formed the second wave around the 1870s. After the abolition of slavery in the early 1800s, the British needed indentured labour to work the sugarcane fields. Many businessmen and traders also came along at that time. The third wave of Muslims came in the early 1990s, when the borders were opened to refugees from North African countries, such as Nigeria, Somalia and Malawi.
Over the decades, under apartheid, Muslims were confined on a racial basis to special areas. This was a major form of oppression. At the same time, by keeping the Muslims concentrated tn certain neighborhoods, cultural characteristics were reinforced and religious identities were strongly maintained.
As a result, the Muslim sense of identity flourished in South Africa, leading to huge efforts in social and political progress and upliftment. Today, South Africa boasts of 700 mosques and 600 educational institutions. Some private Muslim schools are even âsecularâ in outlook. Higher Islamic education at universities is strong, leading to the presence of several Islamic financiers in the country. In the new dispensation of 1994, a number of cabinet ministers and a handful of Members of Parliament were inevitably Muslim.
When halal certification was introduced to South Africa in the early 1960s, people's lifestyles were much simpler. Since almost everything took place at home, from baking bread to slaughtering chickens, oversight was limited. Abattoirs began to be controlled, but it was not until the late 1980s that food control extended beyond poultry and red meat in slaughterhouses, often presumed to be the only objective of halal certification.
After the African National Congress took over the country's affairs in 1994, South Africa faced huge challenges. Products had to be exported, while a huge amount of halal products began to be imported too. There was strict regulation of the meat and agriculture businesses by the government.
This led to an expansion of the MJC's halal services as well as the establishment of SANHA.
Deregulation of the meat industry meant that âwe had to develop national infrastructure to deal with the complexities of supply chain,â said Navlakhi. There was a lack of uniformity in inspections, the system was grossly inadequate and there was no control over halal imports. âThe industry didn't really understand what halal entailed,â he added.
This infrastructure was quickly extended beyond the meat industry to the food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries, such that every facet of the consumables industry was covered.
Today, incredibly, around 60 per cent of all products on display at outlets in South Africa are halal certified. Despite Muslims forming only two per cent of the population, this huge percentage of halal products is due to the large quantity of exports to the north of the continent, much of which is Muslim, and the fact that South African traders make up around 50 per cent of the continent's fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector. Thirty-five per cent of these are Muslim.
In a decade and a half, South African halah authorities have gone on to assist countries like Zambia, Namibia, Botswana and Mozambique in setting up halal certification. The total value of the global halal industry is more than $2 trillion per annum, if Islamic finance, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, logistics and fashion are included. The food industry alone is said to be worth around $160 billion a year worldwide, Navlakhi clarifies. Development in supply chain is bringing change around the world.
âYou'd be surprised to know that Rotterdam is the first port in the world to embrace the halal logistics concept, and has established a separate section for halal logistics at its port.â
A great deal of work done in South Africa over the decades is now paying off. Halal is becoming a holistic concept.
This has not gone unnoticed in the Arabian peninsula. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is thought to be looking more closely at South Africa, to benefit from its expertise.
Peter Shaw Smith, "South Africa: The Halal Kingdom" Gulf Business July 30, 2012
"Who is the Muslim Judicial Council Halal Trust? (MJCHT)" MJC
Reproduced with permission from Islam Today