, 15 June, 2020 / 8:30 PM
A bishop in Botswana who wrote an emotional letter to George Floyd, citing a strong bond of friendship with the black man who was killed by police in Minnesota, U.S., says the widely protested violence continues to play out in African countries that are characterized by police brutalities.
People across the globe remember Floyd from his final harrowing moments as he gasped for air and cried out, “I can’t breathe,” as an unheeding police officer pinned the 46-year-old man on the ground.
In a widely circulated letter that was released through the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference (SACBC), Bishop Frank Nubuasah of Botswana’s Gaborone Diocese recalled his personal encounters with Floyd, expressed anger at his merciless killing and concluded, with a message of hope, that the murdered man would find the one thing that the officers denied him.
“I will miss you George. You can now breathe eternally the breath of love. Rest in peace,” the Bishop wrote in a letter that was dated June 4.
In a reflection published by the Inter-Regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA) on Monday, June 15, the 70-year-old Bishop sought to explain the significance of Floyd’s last words, which continue to reverberate across the world in protests that demand accountability of law enforcers.
“I had a virtual conversation with a youth of coronavirus generation this morning,” the Bishop jokingly said and added, “He (the youth) asked me about my letter to George Flo and why I wrote it.”
The Bishop drew on the experience of Jesus and said the phrase “I can’t breathe” lifted the lid on other issues of life and how the society continues to choke on the ills that affect it.
“At creation, God breathed life into us and when out or human volition we failed to breathe in the life-giving gifts of grace, we started to choke. It felt like choking on your own vomit,” the member of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) Missionaries reflected.
In his reflection, the Ghanaian-born Bishop says that those who wanted Jesus dead did not succeed.
“He rose again and the first thing he did to the disciples was to breathe on them the new breath. Receive the Holy Spirit. It is a breath of peace, love and life. It was his own Spirit that was given to us humans to breathe and live in praise of the creator,” the Bishop said.
“If one person cannot breathe, we all can’t breathe. Denying one of the privilege of breathing is denying him life, it is killing,” he said.
Concerning reports of police who engage in brutalities in African countries, Bishop Nubuasah said, “I am concerned that those who employ them are silent. With the domination of policing tactics in the news these last few weeks, I would not have expected to hear of any more police crime.”
He added, “Let’s start closer home. The police in Kenya are running amok. A young man was killed or died in their custody and was buried without his parents. The mother did not see the body, was prevented from the burial, only one brother was allowed to attend. Why? What on earth is overcoming the so-called “peace officers?”
Civil societies have the responsibility of standing up to those who are engaged in extra judicial killing in the name of law and order, he said.
“One that covers up the crime of another is guilty of the same,” Bishop Nubuasah says in his June 15 reflection and adds in reference to the President of Kenya, “I am worried that the person whose name translates as Freedom cannot stand up for the rights of his people. President Uhuru Kenyatta has been in office since 2013. How many have died under your watch, Sir?”
He says that in Nigeria, statistics indicate that one in four girls have experienced some sort of sexual violence, where women and girls are raped daily and that police are not doing anything about the situation.
“Police brutality has been in the news recently. Now the women are standing up for themselves saying, enough is enough. I stand with them,” the Bishop affirms.
He adds, “I invite you too, to join us and make our voices heard in favor of our women and girls. Even with facial masks on they will hear our voices.”
Meanwhile, Bishop Nubuasah has expressed optimism that the number of COVID-19 cases in Botswana where a lockdown has been declared in certain cities in the Southern African country will soon go down to allow the easing of restrictions by government.
“Life and livelihoods have come to a stop,” he said, hinting on the lockdown in Gaborone.
The Bishop went on to share about the struggles of those who have been worst hit by the pandemic, saying, “I spoke with a woman who had just gone shopping to buy fruits and vegetables that she sells by the roadside. What is she to do now? She cannot sell; she cannot eat and she cannot cry. To quote her, ‘this is beyond tears.” I am sure she is not the only one in a predicament like this.”
As of Monday, June 15, there were 60 COVID-19 cases in Botswana, days after the government relaxed lockdown rules in the country, allowing schools and businesses to operate while introducing more stringent lockdown guidelines in Gaborone and other cities that were marked as high-risk areas.
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa