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South Africans Pay Glowing Tribute to Late Archbishop, Say His Death “a tremendous loss”

Late Archbishop Abel Gabuza who succumbed to COVID-19-related complications Sunday, January 17 aged 65.

South Africans have paid glowing tribute to late Archbishop Abel Gabuza who succumbed to COVID-19-related complications Sunday, January 17 aged 65.

The Coadjutor Archbishop of South Africa’s Durban Archdiocese who, for a week, had been in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) with the second strain of COVID-19 has been eulogized as a “gentle, caring and warm-hearted pastor” and that his death “is such a tremendous loss.”

The demise of Archbishop Gabuza was announced by Wilfred Cardinal Napier, the Archbishop of Durban, in a January 17 statement obtained by ACI Africa.

“It is with the greatest sorrow that we announce the death of our Coadjutor Archbishop Abel Gabuza,” Cardinal Napier announced, specifying the time and location of death as having been “Hillcrest Hospital at 11.35 a.m.”

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In the January 17 statement, Cardinal Napier explains, in reference to the late Archbishop who has been serving in the Archdiocese of Durban since 2018, “Through his gentleness, caring and warmth he made an immediate impact on everyone who was privileged to make his acquaintance.”

“That’s an added reason why his passing is such a tremendous loss to us and to the entire church in Southern Africa,” the South African Cardinal further says.

While extending his “heartfelt condolences” to the family and friends of the late Archbishop, Cardinal Napier also condoles with the people of God in Kimberly Diocese where Archbishop Gabuza was serving until his transfer to Durban. 

“We also feel very much for the Church and people of Kimberly who suffer a double loss, first with their beloved Bishop being transferred to Durban and now his permanent transfer to the Lord’s kingdom,” the Cardinal says in reference to the late Archbishop who had served as the Local Ordinary of Kimberly from 2011 to 2018. 

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In a January 18 report, the Dean of South Africa’s Diocese of Kimberly, Fr. Victor Tlholo, eulogizes Archbishop Gabuza as “a very good man who was always full of joy.” 

“He always wanted people to be happy and brought us together. We have lost a man who was there to guide and lead us. We pass our condolences to his family and the Deanery in Durban,” Fr. Tlholo has been quoted as saying. 

The late Archbishop who was to turn 66 in March was ordained a Priest of the Archdiocese of Pretoria in December 1984 and served as the Apostolic Administrator of the same Ecclesiastical See in 2009. 

As a Priest, he served in variations positions, among them Rector of St. Paul Preparatory Seminary, Hammanskraal which was transferred to Cape Town and changed its name to St Francis Xavier between 1991 and 1996. 

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Recalling the relocation of the Seminary from Hammanskraal to Cape Town, Bishop Victor Phalana of Klerksdorp Diocese who was a formator at the time said Archbishop Gabuza was “a good organizer.”

“As a formator in the Seminary, he had to handle that whole move, having to shift everything: books and beds from Pretoria to Capetown and he managed,” Bishop Phalana told ACI Africa.

He added in reference to Archbishop Gabuza’s tenure as a Rector, “He loved teamwork. He organized facilitators from outside to help as his staff of five members to come together, work together, to understand each other and to know what our objectives and expectations were.”

The late Archbishop “knew that once we were organized and all of us understood our roles, we would be able to complement and support each other in that difficult task of forming future Priests,” Bishop Phalana said.

Recalling their collaboration when the late Archbishop was Apostolic Administrator of Pretoria, Bishop Phalana said, “I remember when he was to lead all the Masses in the Holy week and he was very happy to do it. You would knock on his door, he would welcome you and listen. He was a very good listener. He also had good ideas and was not afraid to express himself.”

The South African Bishop went on to recall Archbishop Gabuza as “a shy man (who) has been shy all his life.”

He explained, “You would see that when you shower him with praises and affirmations, he would feel like hiding because he was also a very humble man and also intelligent and self- disciplined.”

“He was really a very good man,” Bishop Phalana told ACI Africa Monday, January 18.

He added in reference to the late Archbishop, “In March, he was going to officially take over as Archbishop of Durban. His death comes at a time when the Archdiocese of Durban was going through a very sensitive transition. The people are not just mourning but they are also anxious about what is going to happen.” 

Recalling the Church’s role in the fight against corruption during former President Jacob Zuma’s leadership, the Local Ordinary of Klerksdorp recalled Archbishop Gabuza’s “prophetic voice” at the time.   

“He had a prophetic voice. He really stepped in in South Africa during a difficult time when we had a difficult Presidency under Jacob Zuma and the Church had to speak out and to fight corruption,” Bishop Phalana said in reference to Archbishop Gabuza who headed the Justice and Peace Commission of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) at the time.

The prophetic stance made Archbishop Gabusa “unpopular in the political circles but among the poor and the oppressed and those who were suffering as a result of corruption, he was seen as a prophet of our time.” 

“We are grateful to God for him and his gifts. He left us too soon; we know he was going to make greater contribution to the Church in South Africa but God has given, God has taken, praise be the name of the Lord,” mourned the Local Ordinary of Klerksdorp.

South Africans have also eulogized the late Archbishop on social media. 

In a Facebook post published January 17, the Premier of the Northern Cape, Dr Zamani Saul, termed the demise of Archbishop Gabuza as “a great loss to the people of Durban, the church and the people in Kimberley whom he served, the broader Catholic Church in Southern Africa and the entire religious fraternity.”

Nikita Nundlall posted on Facebook, “On behalf of the altar servers of St Anthony's Parish Greyville, we extend our sincerest condolences on the passing of our dearly beloved Archbishop Abel Gabuza.”

“We have been richly blessed to have had such a kind hearted and deeply spiritual Archbishop as a leader and role model in our faith. We pray that Archbishop Abel Gabuza will continue to watch over us, guide and protect us with all our angels in heaven,” says Nikita.

“We will never forget all that he has taught us, his love for the ministry of altar servers (ADASA) and his legacy will live on forever,” she says and prays, “May the soul of our Archbishop - Abel Gabuza and all our dearly departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace.”

On his part, David Wepener comforted the bereaved saying, “Take comfort in knowing that the Lord has given and taken away also when this earthly Tabernacle is dissolved, we have a house eternal in the heavens not made with hands and it’s Peter speaks of an inheritance incorruptible and fadeth not away prepared in heaven with you all.”

Archbishop Gabuza’s death comes a day after Bishop Moses Hamungole of  Zambia’s Monze Diocese in was laid to rest, having succumbed to COVID-19 related complications on January 13.