Benedict was regarded by conservatives in the church as a flag-bear for their values

Deputy President Paul Mashatile has urged the country's religious leaders to help the government deal with societal challenges like gender-based violence.

Speaking at the Twelve Apostles Church in Christ International Thanksgiving Day celebrations at the Absa Stadium in East London on Sunday, Mashatile said the government strongly encouraged the church to make collaborative efforts to address societal difficulties.

He noted that the South African government relied on the religious sector to ensure the leaders will "point out mistakes in a constructive manner and recommend solutions," SA News reported.

Mashatile said he followed an "open-door policy" in his office, adding that religious leaders were welcome to meet him whenever they want to discuss the problems and how to fix them.

The deputy president urged the leaders to be a part of the government's initiatives to fight gender-based violence across South Africa and promote equality. He also asked them to speak on behalf of those women and children, who were victims of abuse.

"We need you to be the refuge and defender of women's and children's rights," he said.

He encouraged the leaders to speak against sexual violence and rape of young children and women in the country, adding that "we must not be silent when we witness acts of abuse or rape against women and children by our brethren or family members."

The deputy minister praised the role of churches in fighting against apartheid in the country.

South Africa gained independence in 1994 after the apartheid system ended in the late 20th century, which led to Nelson Mandela becoming the first black president. Before the implementation of the apartheid system, South Africa was under Dutch colonization from 1652 to 1795.

"We have achieved democratic freedom, which entails the freedom to practice any religion without fear of persecution among others. Collectively, we can agree that South Africa is a better place than it was three decades ago," he said.

"Despite the significant progress our great nation has undeniably made over the years, it is of utmost importance to conscientiously acknowledge that we have not yet fully attained our desired goal, including complete economic freedom for our people."

Last week, three female security officers were raped by heavily armed criminals in Merebank, Durban.

The incident took place on the same day President Cyril Ramaphosa urged South African men and boys to break the cycle of violence in line with the United Nations' campaign called "16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children."