, 14 January, 2021 / 6:35 PM
Two Catholic Bishops in Southern African nations have expressed concerns about the “distressing situation” of migrants trying to cross into South Africa from neighboring countries amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a Tuesday, January 12 report seen by ACI Africa, Bishop Estanislau Marques Chindekasse of Angola’s Dundo Diocese and Bishop Willem Christiaans of Namibia’s Keetmanshoop Diocese propose a series of measures to address the “distressing and chaotic reality.”
"Over the past few days the distressing situation at the border posts in Lesotho, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe has made headlines,” the two Bishops say in a joint message sent to Agenzia Fides, the information service of Propaganda Fide.
In their message, the Bishops explain that the “distressing and chaotic reality” at the border posts has been caused by the “huge backlog in the processing of documentation and COVID-19 testing and screening.”
Due to the COVID-19 controls, thousands of migrants seeking entry into South Africa “stayed for inordinately long periods at the border posts waiting to be processed and as such suffered from dehydration and were without basic needs like food and even sanitation,” the two Bishops say.
The long waits contravened COVID-19 protocols such as wearing masks, and social distancing rules, the Bishops further note and add, “Even those with the relevant COVID-19 certificates remained in queues for long periods up until a point that their certificates expired.”
“Pope Francis exhorts us to be a generation that changes history, to hear the cry of the poor and commit ourselves to ending their marginalization,” Bishop Chindekasse and Bishop Christiaans have been quoted as saying in the January 12 report.
They add referencing migrants, “Each person crossing the borders of their own country is looking for protection and a secure and better life for themselves and their family. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ that need our understanding, welcome and cooperation.”
Ahead of the 2020 Christmas festivities, thousands of commuters were left stranded at some border points, among them Africa’s busiest border crossing, Beitbridge, which is between South Africa and Zimbabwe, as authorities struggled to process them in line with COVID-19 protocols.
After the festivities, the scenario was the same as some of the estimated 4.2 million migrants in South Africa who had gone to their home countries for the celebrations made their way back into the 57-million-people nation.
On Monday, January 11, South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the country would close its 20 border posts till February 15 as a way to curb the rising COVID-19 infections caused by a new strain of the pandemic identified as 501.V2 variant.
The country has recorded at least 1.25 million COVID-19 cases, 973,000 recoveries and 33,579 related deaths.
“The distressing situation at the points of entry, especially the land borders, has revealed the myriad of challenges that need to be addressed by the different governments and civil society organizations in the region,” the two Southern African Bishops say in their January 12 collective statement.
As a way forward, the duo propose the undertaking of “more advocacy/awareness to the population before they embark on a trip to cross the border especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
They also urge governments “not to announce a new lockdown without providing means for the people to have access to their work stations” since, the two Bishops explain, "There is no hope in successfully curbing the spread of the pandemic if governments do not put people first.”
“Public health measures should be in such a way that they take the reality of the people into consideration,” the Bishops further note and add, “Any public health measure that is not centered on people is just a theatrical show on the part of the Southern African governments.”
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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