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Catholic Bishop in South Africa Cautions Country’s Poor against Being Used in Violence

Bishop Sithembele Sipuka of South Africa's Mthatha Diocese/Credit: Bishop Sithembele Sipuka

The Catholic Bishop of South Africa’s Umtata Diocese has acknowledged the calm in the country that followed a series of violent attacks and cautioned the country’s poor people against accepting to be used by those in power to fuel violence.

In the latest violence that rocked the country, more than 300 people reportedly died and around 3,000 stores were looted in protests that followed the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma in July.

In an interview with Agenzia Fides, the information service of the Vatican's Propaganda Fide, Bishop Sithembele Sipuka linked protests in South Africa to poverty and condemned what he referred to as exploitation of the poor whenever violence erupts in the country.

“Violence must always be condemned, and if there are differences in the party, politics or society, the only way is to sit down and discuss. One must never exploit the poor for one's own interests, the welfare of the country,” Bishop Sipuka says in the Saturday, August 28 report.

“Our message to the poorest is, don't let them use you,” he says and adds in reference to the country’s poor masses, “They are the first victims too.”

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The President of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) noted that Bishops in the three-nation conference had launched the call to those who participated in the looting to return the stolen property and that the call was working.

“After the violence that broke out in July, we proposed that the government take reconciliation measures and ask those who stole and looted businesses to return the stolen goods within a short period of time in order to grant them an amnesty and some responded,” Bishop Sipuka has been quoted as saying in the Agenzia Fides report.

The Bishop who also mentioned the subject during the Plenary Assembly of SACBC, “The situation has calmed down again, but one wonders how it was possible that thousands of citizens could storm shops, buildings and houses without intervention to stop them.”

“In many places you can no longer buy bread at fair prices because the shops are devastated,” the SACBC President laments.

He says that with the high unemployment rate in South Africa, the country needs to move towards an economy that is inclusive and reduces poverty.

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According to the South African Bishop, the country’s quality of education is inadequate and young people cannot become productive after training.

The Catholic Bishop calls on the government to consider developing marginalized regions in the country, saying, “We must also look to the more rural areas of the country. The government must work for development there too, so that the people who live there can earn a decent livelihood, and because they are fundamental areas that make a significant contribution to the economy.”

According to the Local Ordinary of Umtata Diocese, the July protests are not just a reaction to the imprisonment of the former president.

There exists a political polarization between those who continue to support Zuma and those who profess themselves on the side of the law and want justice to take its course, he says.

The Catholic Bishop notes that the polarization has a direct impact on society, as institutional bodies such as the army and the police depend on ministries headed by members of different political groups.

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According to Bishop Sipuka, “deep divisions” in the country’s ruling party have led to splits in the secret service, the police and the army.

But the biggest challenge, which the Bishop says is heavily weighing down South Africa, is poverty that he says has sometimes led to mass starvation.