“Main challenge facing South Africa now is saving lives”: Church Leaders in South Africa

Members of the National Church Leaders’ Consultation (NCLC) in South Africa.

Leaders of various Christian denominations in South Africa have, in a collective statement, identified the saving of human life amid COVID-19 as “the main challenge” the people of God in their country are facing and called for a response that is “holistic and humane.”

“The main challenge facing South Africa now is not the issue of legality or rationality (although these are very important and valid principles in our constitutional democracy) but of saving lives, caring for the sick and feeding the hungry,” members of the National Church Leaders’ Consultation (NCLC) in the country have said in their June 5 statement shared with ACI Africa.

They add, “We need to ready ourselves to deal with the peak of COVID-19 and learn from other parts of the world that are experiencing major outbreaks of this pandemic - how to effectively respond to the outbreak in a holistic and humane way.” 

According to the Church leaders, “The ultimate legitimacy test for all measures dealing with the impact of COVID-19 is: does it enhance our capacity, efficiency and commitment as a country to care for those most affected: the sick, the hungry and the most vulnerable in our society?”

NCLC is an ecumenical body bringing together religious leaders representing the various Christian denominations in South Africa. These leaders address issues of national interest, including possible solutions to the societal challenges.


With at least 43,434 recorded cases of COVID-19, South Africa has the highest number of cases of the coronavirus on the continent. At least 23,088 patients have recovered from the disease; 908 have succumbed to the virus, according to statistics from Worldometers.

In their collective message signed by the Chairman of NCLC, Bishop Sithembele Sipuka of the Catholic Diocese of Umtata, the leaders express their appreciation for government’s efforts alongside other stakeholders in the fight against COVID-19 in South Africa.

They go on to express concerns about the impact of COVID-19 saying, “The number of people with no or insufficient food has increased enormously.”

The leaders call for “effective cooperation between government, faith communities and civil society to ensure that food is delivered to hungry people.”

They are also concerned about the “far too many serious incidents of police or defense force violence in the execution of their duty to enforce lock down measures – causing harm, death and criminalizing many South Africans.” 

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“These cases should be investigated – accountability and justice must prevail,” they add. 

“The consequences of the additional tensions and stress in society – resulting in an increase of incidences of violence in families (especially against women and children) needs to be addressed by church and faith leaders, as well as social services and law enforcement agencies,” the representatives of Christian leaders in South Africa say.

“Many fraudulent and self-serving schemes (in all sectors) who exploit the current crisis for self-enrichment – robbing valuable resources that should benefit the most vulnerable in society” also concerns the leaders. 

They advocate for a collaborative approach in fighting against COVID-19 saying, “The challenge for government is not to attempt to control and deliver all services on its own, but rather to act as true servants of the public - as facilitator, coordinator and to support the numerous initiatives and proven networks of capacity within faith communities, NGOs, civil society and business – that have the capacity to implement such programs.”

Besides demanding “immediate action,” the Church leaders say, addressing the effects of COVID-19 “also demands a re-think and design of how different sectors could collaborate more meaningfully to deal with the longer-term impact and consequences in the years to come.”


“Any obstacles hindering collaboration between all sectors (faith communities, government, private sector, civil society) to mobilize resources (including international resources), services and especially volunteers must be addressed urgently,” the leaders say.

They want the scaling up of the “community feeding schemes (soup kitchens; food parcels)” so that there is food security for vulnerable families.

Jude Atemanke is a Cameroonian journalist with a passion for Catholic Church communication. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Buea in Cameroon. Currently, Jude serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.