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Catholic Bishop in Eswatini Cautions against Revenge, Calls for Calm amid Protests

Bishop José Luis Ponce de León of the Catholic Diocese of Manzini in Swaziland, also called Eswatini/ Credit: Courtesy Photo

The Bishop of Eswatini’s lone Catholic Diocese is calling for calm in the Southern African nation amid pro-democracy protests.

In his Friday, July 2 statement shared with ACI Africa, Bishop José Luis Ponce de León cautions the people of God in Eswatini against responding to the violence with revenge and calls for dialogue to address the crisis that started late last month.

“As I have stated in the past, fighting fire with fire will bring our country to ashes. The Catholic Church calls once again for calm and dialogue,” Bishop Ponce de León says, adding that an “all-inclusive and open dialogue without excluding any stakeholder is the only possible way forward.”

Protests in the Southern African nation that changed its name from Swaziland to the Kingdom of Eswatini in 2018  were triggered by the death of Thabani Nkomonye, a 25-year-old University of Eswatini Student, allegedly at the hands of police in May.

The demonstrators shifted their focus from “Justice for Thabani” to calling for reforms to the country’s system of absolute monarchy. 

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On June 28, the protests turned violent after security officers used force to stop the peaceful demonstrators. 

The following day, the government imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew. Internet access has also been limited in the country.

In his July 2 statement, Bishop Ponce de León underscores the need to restore “calm” in the country even as strategies of addressing the reasons behind the protests are being formulated.

“The restoration of calm should not make us think that the reasons behind the unrest have been addressed,” he says.

As a way forward, the Bishop advocates for dialogue that seeks to accommodates a variety of views and viewpoints in line with what Pope Francis recommends in his October 2020 Encyclical Letter, Fratelli Tutti.

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“As Pope Francis wrote in ‘Fratelli Tutti’ (All brothers and sisters): ‘Authentic social dialogue involves the ability to respect the other’s point of view and to admit that it may include legitimate convictions and concerns,’” the Local Ordinary of Manzini says.

The Bishop goes on to appeal for the restoration of Internet services in the country saying with Internet shutdown, inhabitants of the landlocked the nation “depend on the information being offered by foreign media and not by our own people.”

The Internet, the member of the Consolata Missionaries says, “will also allow Churches, NGO’s, political organisations and other bodies to share their own calls for calm and dialogue. The Churches will also be able to provide essential spiritual support in this time of crisis.”

In a Thursday, July 1 interview with ACI Africa, the Director of the Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI), Johan Viljoen, expressed fear that lives will continue to be lost in the ongoing violence.

While the government has denied allegations that people have been killed in the ongoing protests in Eswatini, Mr. Viljoen told ACI Africa that scores of protesters have already been killed.

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“There is fear that if this conflict is not resolved urgently, the violence will escalate to an uncontrollable situation and many people will be killed,” the Director of DHPI, the peace entity of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC), said.

He added, “There is fear that if this conflict is not resolved urgently, the violence will escalate to an uncontrollable situation and many people will be killed.”

In his July 1 statement, Bishop Ponce de León implores, “We continue to pray to the Father in Jesus’ name that the Holy Spirit pour on all of us the gift of wisdom to know God’s will and the gift of courage to take the necessary steps to achieve it.”