Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Disrespect for “sovereignty”: Southern Africa Bishops

Archbishop Stephen Brislin of South Africa's Cape Town Archdiocese. Credit: SACBC

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine disrespects “the sovereignty of each nation”, the spokesperson of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC), Archbishop Stephen Brislin, has said.

In an interview with ACI Africa, the SACBC official said the Catholic leaders in the three countries of Botswana, Eswatini, and South Africa condemn the war and advocate for mediated dialogue.  

“We condemn the violence and the aggression. We condemn the fact that the sovereignty of Ukraine has not been respected, and we must ask all countries to respect the sovereignty of each nation”, Archbishop Brislin said during the Thursday, March 3 interview.

The South African Archbishop added in reference to the ongoing war that started February 24 when Russia invaded Ukraine, “While this violence is terrible, and we condemn it, the fact of the matter is that some other countries seem to be able to encroach on the sovereignty of countries hostile to them, or which they perceive to be hostile to them; and they do so with a little bit more impunity.”

“The church cannot take sides in such things,” the Local Ordinary of South Africa’s Cape Town Archdiocese said in reference to the Russia-Ukraine violent conflict, and explained, “If we are going to condemn the violence of one country, we must condemn the violence of all countries.”


Days after Russia invaded Ukraine, the Vatican reportedly expressed readiness to “facilitate dialogue” between the two European neighbors to end the violent conflict. 

On February 28, the Vatican Secretary of State, Pietro Cardinal Parolin was quoted as telling Italian newspapers that "despite the war unleashed by Russia against Ukraine", he was "convinced there is always room for negotiations".

"The Holy See, which in these years has followed events in Ukraine constantly, discreetly and with great attention, offering to facilitate dialogue with Russia, is always ready to help both sides resume such a path," Cardinal Parolin was quoted as saying, adding that dialogue was the only "reasonable and constructive" way to work out differences the two Eastern European nations.

"Above all the military attack must stop immediately. We are all witnesses to its tragic consequences," Vatican diplomat was quoted as saying. 

The need to halt the military attack “immediately” is “Pope Francis told the Russian ambassador when he made a surprise visit to the Russian embassy to the Vatican on Friday (February 25), in an unprecedented departure from diplomatic protocol”, Reuters reported February 28

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In the March 3 interview with ACI Africa, Archbishop Brislin echoed the Vatican call for mediated dialogue saying, “There is only one way forward, and that is through dialogue and through mediation.”

To foster mediated dialogue, the SACBC spokesperson said, “it is very important that we plead with those who are involved in this aggression, to become part of a dialogue process to try to resolve these difficulties that exists between those two countries in an amicable and peaceful way.”

Earlier this month, officials of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) expressed their “full support” for Pope Francis’ offer to arbitrate for an end to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We write to express the full support and encouragement of our churches in South Africa for the divinely inspired and most holy initiative of His Holiness to offer to mediate on an urgent basis, a peace settlement that will guarantee lasting peace between Moscow and Kyiv,” officials of the Christian entity that includes SACBC members said.

They described the Holy Father’s offer to media dialogue as “God’s answer to the prayer behind our call in South Africa for a high-level peace initiative to bring about a ceasefire and dialogue, which we believe needs to be undergirded by the spirit of what we refer to in South Africa as ubuntu.”


The United Nation’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Human Rights) has reported hundreds of civilian casualties since the invasion began on February 24. 

In a March 3 report, UN Human Rights reported having “recorded and confirmed 752 civilian casualties, including 227 killed – 15 of them children. At least 525 have been injured, including 28 children.”

In the interview with ACI Africa, the spokesperson of SACBC expressed the solidarity of the Catholic Bishops in the three-nation Conference with those directly affected by the war. 

“Our hearts go out to all those who have died, to those who have lost loved ones, to those who have been displaced, to those who are living in terror”, Archbishop Brislin said, adding that SACBC members “also remember the Russian soldiers who have been killed because they are just soldiers (who) are obeying orders, presumably; our heart goes out to all their families.”

The fact that the Russia-Ukraine violent conflict “could turn into a nuclear war” spells danger for many nations of the world, the Archbishop of Cape Town said.

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He explained, “When something happens in Europe, it does tend to impact on the rest of the world. And we've already seen that in terms of the oil prices, skyrocketing, and so on, and that will affect South Africa, and many other places in the world.”

The SACBC went on to condemn cases of discrimination against Africans fleeing from Ukraine.

“There have been images, evidently of students being turned away, simply because they're African,” he said, and added, “Any form of discrimination like that must indeed be condemned.”

Discrimination against Africans fleeing the violent conflict in Ukraine “is totally, totally unacceptable,” Archbishop Brislin emphasized, and added, “Every life is valuable; and it doesn't matter whether you’re African or European; every life is valuable, and that must be the church's stand.”

“A life lost in Africa, the Middle East or South America, is as important as a life that is lost in Western Europe or in the West in general”, the South African Archbishop told ACI Africa March 3.

Sheila Pires is a veteran radio and television Mozambican journalist based in South Africa. She studied communications at the University of South Africa. She is passionate about writing on the works of the Church through Catholic journalism.