South Africa: Hot, cross Christians fired up over halal-certified buns

JOHANNESBURG — A handful of cross Christians have created controversy in South Africa over markings on spiced buns.

Specifically, some members of the Christian community are angry at Woolworths, a major South African retail chain, for putting a halal certification mark on packages of hot cross buns sold ahead of Easter.

In emails, Facebook messages and Twitter posts, the fired-up Christians argued that hot cross buns have special meaning in their religion, and so the halal symbol (which indicates the food is permissable for Muslims to eat, under Islamic law), should not be used, according to the Cape Times.

“Woolworths SA clearly has no respect of the Christian faith to make hot cross buns halal,” tweeted Tony Seifart.

“What is objectionable to people… is the idea of our food being blessed by a totally foreign faith to ours,” wrote another online commentator.

Other comments on South African news websites defended the halal buns.

“The only reason I can see why people could be offended is if the ingredients have been changed to comply with halal regulations and the buns are no longer lekker [nice/tasty] as a result,” wrote one woman.

Father Chris Townsend of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference criticized the cross Christians, calling their behavior an “overreaction,” the Cape Times reported.

The issue is “nothing more than a storm in a baking pan,” Townsend said, calling for more understanding and tolerance in South Africa’s multicultural society.

“Hot-cross buns are only a symbol and not a central tenet of Christianity. There are a lot more weighty issues to deal with in SA than a few ‘hot cross Christians’,” he said.

Woolworths told The Mercury, a Durban newspaper, that its Easter hot cross buns have been halal certified for several years, and throughout the year the buns are also produced in a halal-certified facility.

“Our desire was to offer this well-loved product on an all-inclusive basis that would not exclude any of our customers from enjoying them,” the company said.

“We apologize and assure our customers that no offense was intended… our next Easter offer will have both non-halal certified hot cross buns and halal certified spiced buns,” it said.