Bishops in Southern Africa “deeply shocked” by Killing of Bystander During Protests

Logo of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference (SACBC).

Members of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) have expressed their shock following the police killing of a bystander amid students’ protests at a local university mid last week.

35-year-old Mthokozisi Ntumba was reportedly struck by a stray bullet on March 10 as he was leaving a clinic amid protests over fees by students of South Africa’s Wits University, within the Archdiocese of Johannesburg.

In a statement issued Monday, March 15, the leadership of the Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) of SACBC says the members of the three-nation Conference are “deeply shocked by the tragic event and loss of life” that occurred on March 10.

“Until the government finds the political will to enforce profound changes in the ethos of policing in our country, more such deaths are inevitable,” SACBC members say in the statement signed by the Chairperson of JPC, Bishop Victor Phalana.

According to the Catholic Bishops in Botswana, South Africa, and Swaziland who constitute SACBC, “Mthokozisi Ntumba joins a long list of people, by far the majority black men, killed or murdered by the SAPS (South African Police Service). From Andries Tatane ten years ago in Ficksburg and the 34 dead at Marikana in 2012 to the shooting of Petrus Miggels in Uitsig, Cape Town at the beginning of lockdown last year.”


“The SAPS kills on average two and half times as many people per capita of population as the American Police do, and eight times as many as their Canadian counterparts,” SACBC members say in the statement shared with ACI Africa March 15.

Making reference to the Gospel according to St. John, the Bishops remind South Africa’s Minister of the Police, Bhekokwakhe “Bheki” Hamilton Cele, that “each loss of human life resulting from police brutality shocks our social conscience as a nation because human life is sacred and a gift from God Almighty. Jesus Christ came to give us this life to the full.”

In their statement, the SACBC members reiterate Pope St. John Paul II’s  address to the United Nations General Assembly in October 1979 where the Pontiff emphasized, “Every human being is endowed with a dignity that must never be lessened, impaired or destroyed but must instead be respected and safeguarded, if peace is really to be built up.”

Terming the death of Mthokozisi Ntumba as “a sign of structural problems in our policing system,” the Bishops call on the Minister for Police to “take appropriate measures to demilitarize the police.”

They add in reference to the call to demilitarization of the police, “It is now ten years since the National Development Plan called for this to be addressed and nothing has so far been done.” 

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“He should stop rhetoric that encourages policy brutality,” SACBC members tell South Africa’s Minister of the Police, adding, “Over the years, there has been a continued refrain from him and previous ministers that ‘the police must shoot to kill,’ ‘use maximum force’ and ‘use deadly force.’”

The Bishops want the Minister to “review the poor training received by the public order police officers, especially its over-reliance on the use of force when it is the black protestors, with no room for negotiation and many other non-violent intervention.”

The Minister, they say, “should ensure that there are consequences, not only for lower ranked police officers, but also command structure in charge of the operation that has resulted in loss of human life.”

“The SACBC Justice and Peace extends to all the family and friends of the late Mthokozisi Ntumba its deepest sympathy and may his soul rest in eternal peace,” the Bishops in the three-nation Conference say in their March 15 statement availed to ACI Africa.