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“Vote according to your conscience”: Southern African Bishops Ahead of Municipal Polls

Logo of the Southern Africa Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC). Credit: SACBC

Eligible voters in South Africa have been urged to vote at the forthcoming municipal elections according to their conscience. 

In a pastoral letter shared with ACI Africa Thursday, October 14, members of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference (SACBC) make “a strong appeal" to all eligible voters to participate in the poll scheduled to take place on November 1.

“In our call for participation in the election, we urge all to vote according to your conscience and in a manner that influences our country to take the first steps in the moral renewal of its politics,” SACBC members say.

They advocate for prayerful discernment ahead of the polls saying, "We should give serious attention to the importance of prayer, discernment of the Spirit and formation of conscience before casting a vote.” 

“We must always consider the moral implications of our vote," the Catholic Bishops say in the statement signed by SACBC President, Bishop Sithembele Sipuka, adding that the results of an election are a “mirror of our moral values, that which we consider as valuable as a nation.” 

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South Africans are expected to elect leaders at the metropolitan, district and local levels in over 200 municipalities across the country. 

Elected every five years, the leaders play a crucial role in providing services that directly affect South African citizens on a daily basis.

In September, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) sought to delay the polls by several months arguing that it would be difficult to organize free and fair elections amid COVID-19 challenges, Reuters reported.

Calls to boycott the election and voter apathy have also affected voter registration. 

In their October 14 statement, SACBC members say the forthcoming elections will become “a first step towards moral transformation of South African politics if we have peaceful elections that can produce leaders who act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God.”

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They note that the elections should “influence a new vision of politics where there are consequences when politicians display serious failures in clean governance, effective service delivery and the consideration of the common good.”

“The kind of politics that refuses to subject itself to ethical values gradually develops into a virus that entrenches consideration of politics as an opportunity for self-enrichment, protects those who are implicated of corruption, and destroys public confidence in the rule of law, elections and other democratic processes,” the Catholic Church leaders say in their three-page pastoral letter.

The Bishops further say, “Politics without an ethical soul loses its capacity to hear the cries of the poor and to effectively address the economic challenges, like unemployment, inequalities, and poverty, which the current pandemic has exposed and aggravated.”

The Catholic Bishops from the three-nation conference say the construction of the new normal requires South Africans to behave “differently and ethically in relation to the forthcoming elections.”

For this reason, SACBC members caution South Africans against resorting "to violent protests or a boycott of elections, as some seem to be advocating, but a greater commitment to building a new normal in our politics, a moral transformation of our politics, using all legally accepted tools at our disposal as citizens.”

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“If we want a kind of politics where leaders are held to account when implicated of corruption and incompetence, if accountability and integrity in leadership are valuable to us, it must be shown in our votes,” the Catholic Bishops emphasize.  

To ensure peaceful and fair elections, the Catholic Church leaders in Botswana, Eswatini, and South Africa urge politicians vying to various positions “to refrain from inflammatory, intimidating and inappropriate statements.”

They also urge politicians in South Africa to “take visible, decisive action when candidates and their supporters are involved in acts of intolerance, intimidation, harassment and disturbance; respect the election results and do everything to ensure that the rule of law is respected.”

The Catholic Bishops further invite politicians to “take measures to end the practice of political assassinations during election season.”

They call on the media to “refrain from sensationalism and report appropriately and responsibly for the benefit of the common good.”

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The responsibility for peaceful and fair elections, SACBC members say, depends on the “responsibility of each one of us.”

“All of us have a responsibility to create an environment of tolerance and acceptance which enables every South African to support and vote for the party or the independent candidate that they choose, without fear of violence and intimidation,” they add.

SACBC members further appeal for prayers ahead of the election saying, “The nation should rely on the strength of God’s grace as we seek the integration of Gospel values into the circumstances of our politics.”

“As such, in working with the Holy Spirit to build this new normal in South African politics, we should all be guided by the love of the Gospel, which is the spring of all change and which urges us to enter into the wounds of history and rise again,” the Catholic Bishops say in their October 14 pastoral letter shared with ACI Africa.