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Three Issues A South African Prelate Wants Duly Addressed in Church, Society

Bishop Sithembele Sipuka of South Africa’s Umtata Diocese.

The need to enhance accountability in the administration of Church resources, the upsurge of COVID-19 reported cases, and corruption are the three issues a Catholic Prelate in South Africa wants duly addressed.

In a reflection published by the Inter-Regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA) Tuesday, December 1, Bishop Sithembele Sipuka explains his concerns and acknowledges with appreciation efforts being put in place to address the concerns in some cases.

The Local Ordinary of South Africa’s Umtata Diocese who doubles as the President of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) is concerned about the lack of accountability in the administration of resources by Church and government leaders.

He says, "One of the painful consequences of the inefficiency of our Provincial and Local governments has been to see funds being recalled by the national treasury because of the inability of the local authorities to effectively use these funds for their intended purpose of giving service to the poor people.”

"As Church, we are not completely innocent of this inefficiency,” Bishop Sipuka notes and explains, “While Priests and Religious generally fulfil the physical pastoral work of celebrating Sacraments and visiting the sick, some do fall short on administration."

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He further explains figuratively, "Trying to get a simple financial quarterly return or parish annual statistics can, in some situations, be like trying to pull out a tooth from the mouth of an ill-tempered lion with two fingers.”

Some potential partners have turned down applications from members of the Clergy and Religious due to a lack of accountability in previous partnerships, Bishop Sipuka observes.

“This really spoils our name and confirms the stereotype about locals being inefficient,” the South African Bishop who, two months ago, cautioned the Clergy and Religious against bowing to family pressure to misuse Church resources says.

As a way forward, the Bishop says, the formation of Clergy and Religious men and women should “provide us with the capacity for simple administration because it is equally important as pastoral work is.”

He emphasized in reference to resources, “We must have a plan of how we take care of them and evaluate it and we must source funds to build the structures of caring for them and account for those funds.”

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The upsurge of COVID-19 reported cases in South Africa is an issue that needs to be duly addressed by relevant stakeholders including ordinary citizens, Bishop Sipuka says in his December 1 reflection.

“By most accounts, the upsurge, or the second wave is due largely to people not adhering to Covid-19 preventive measures,” the President of SACBC says and adds, “What is concerning is that these measures are not flouted for reasons of survival, e.g., people queuing for grants or for food parcels but for cultural and entertainment reasons.”

He calls on those in leadership to “do something about this problem” because “as leaders, whether we like it or not, we shall be involved in the aftermath of these fatal behaviors.”

Apportioning blame to the youth for disregarding COVID-19 regulations because of entertainment, Bishop Sipuka urges leaders in the country to present to young people “the value of postponing momentary pleasure for the common good.”

“More importantly, we need to point out that the present inconvenience imposed by the COVID-19 regulations is nothing compared to the inconvenience to social life and economy that will come about from infection with COVID-19, there will be a lot of tears and regret!” the 60-year-old Bishop cautions.

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He further observes that cultural events provide a “perfect opportunity for the spread of the virus” considering that as people gather closer to each other, they eat from a common dish and drink from the same billycan.

He pushes for the use of “supportive values, beliefs and mental conversion that will motivate personal commitment to respect health protocols must.”

“We need to appeal to the value of life which is uppermost among Africans,” he says and explains, “African ancestors and dead relatives are purported to value life and therefore should not mind if an ancestor function is postponed until the COVID-19 pandemic is over or done differently in order to protect life.”

He adds that where cultural events are necessary, those involved be encouraged to drink the traditional beer with personal mugs and eat from individual dishes.

South Africa has recorded 790,004 cases of the virus including 21,535 deaths and 731,242 recoveries.

Regarding corruption in South Africa, Bishop Sipuka lauds the government for taking some concrete steps to address the vice, making particular reference to the ongoing investigations of former President Jacob Zuma and politician Ace Magashule.

However, there is "a growing worry that the factions … among elites of the ruling party will now spill over to the ordinary people which could lead to violence," he notes.

A voice clip, which has been calling for military veterans to gather and protect the former President “could just be the beginning of a series of occasions of politically motivated violence," Bishop Sipuka cautions.

"As we rejoice about the prospect of corruption finally being dealt with, let us also prepare ourselves to deal with a situation where corrupt kingpins, to avoid jail sentences, will present themselves as political victims and incite people to violence and insubordination," the South African Bishop further cautions in his December 1 reflection.