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Church Official in South Africa Faults Government for Protracted Human Rights Violations

Fr. Stanslaus Muyebe. Credit: www.polity.org.za

Continued human rights violations in South Africa are as a result of a government that does not care and that fosters “the economy of exclusion”, a Catholic Church official has said. 

In an interview with ACI Africa, the Coordinator of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) highlighted Catholic Church initiatives in reaching out to victims of human rights violation in the African country.

In the June 3 interview, Fr. Stanslaus Muyebe regretted the fact that victims of various human rights violations in South Africa have not been assisted to recover, heal and have access to justice.

The incidents, Fr. Muyebe said, include the atrocities during South Africa’s apartheid regime, with recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission largely ignored; and the August 2012 Marikana massacre when the South African Police Service (SAPS) killed 34 mineworkers, and left 78 with serious injuries.

Others are the 2016  Life Healthcare Esidumeni scandal that involved the death of 144 people with mental illness who were in the care of a public health system, after they were reportedly neglected and starved; and the 2017-2018 listeriosis outbreak, a serious foodborne disease, which was reportedly caused by ready-to-eat processed meat products from a food production facility, that resulted in hundreds of deaths

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“Many people expected that these kinds of violation of human rights would not happen in a constitutional democracy in South Africa,” the CCJP Coordinator of the three-nation SACBC said.

The human rights violations have continued to happen “because of the uncaring government and the entrenchment of the economy of exclusion,” he said.

The violations, Fr. Muyebe said, “may happen again in the future since those in power in the government and business sector refuse to see the need to transform the uncaring government and the economy of exclusion.”

“In South Africa, we are living with an uncaring government and uncaring economy, indifferent to the concerns of those at the margins of the economy,” the member of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans, OP) reiterated.

Under the circumstances of a government that does not care and an economy that promotes exclusion, he said, the Church “must find a way to preach the new normality of the Kingdom of God, where the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the deaf hear, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”

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“Preaching the Gospel in a country striving to heal from Marikana, Life Esidimeni, Listeriosis etc includes standing close to the victims so that they receive God’s healing and access to justice,” Fr. Muyebe told ACI Africa June 3. 

In the case of the 2012 Marikana massacre, he went on to say, “the Church, the civil society organizations and the human rights lawyers have been at the center of taking the government and powerful companies to task for their failure to expedite reparation for the victims.”

The CCJP Coordinator of the Conference that brings together Catholic Bishops in Botswana, Eswatini, and South Africa regretted the fact that “ten years after the Marikana massacre, the victims are still waiting for reparation” and that “in a recent development, the government has refused to concede to the quantum of damages cited by the victims.”

“This is a cause of concern for us. It is not helping with the healing of the victims. In the coming weeks, we intend to engage the department of justice on this matter,” he said.

“There are currently two processes underway regarding Marikana”, Fr. Muyebe told ACI Africa, and highlighted the two processes as “the out-of-court settlement where there is now a dispute regarding the quantum of the damages, and the civil claim against the president, the mine and the government, which was held in court on Thursday (June 2).”

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He said that CCJP of SACBC has been involved in the out-of-court settlement process, and that the involvement has included “exerting pressure on the government to concede to the requests of the victims.”

“If the dispute in this process escalates into a court case, Justice and Peace will support the victims as the friend of the court”, Fr. Muyebe said during the June 3 interview with ACI Africa.

“SACBC Justice and Peace has therefore been involved with the victims in most of these human rights incidents,” he further said, and added in reference to the victims of human rights violations in South Africa, “All this is to contribute to their experience of God's love and healing, assuring them that God has not abandoned them in their time of distress.”

He made reference Pope Francis’ 2013  Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) saying the reality of the victims of human rights violations in South Africa amid an economy of exclusion “bears testimony to the nature of our society, a throw-away society, where the pursuit of profit is more important than the value of human life.”

Fr. Muyebe explained, “In the victims, we see in reality what Pope Francis meant when he declared in the Joy of the Gospel that the economy of exclusion kills. The command, thou shall not kill, applies to this economy of exclusion.”

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The Catholic Church official said that the Catholic Bishops’ Commission he coordinates is looking at the possibility of having a national counseling program for victims of human rights violations in South Africa, in view of fostering the teaching of Jesus Christ among the people of God.