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Catholic Bishops in Southern Africa Call for Shift from Violence Mindset to Dialogue

Credit: SACBC

Members of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) have expressed concern over the growing tendency of South Africans to resort to violence whenever they need any social, political or economic issue addressed by those in leadership.

In a statement shared with ACI Africa on Tuesday, July 13, the Catholic Bishops call on those aggrieved by what they term as poor governance to shift their mindset from violence and chaos and to embrace dialogue.

“Our society has normalized the use of violence and vandalism to get the government to listen and be serious in addressing economic concerns of the poor,” Catholic Bishops in the three-nation Conference say in the statement signed by SACBC President, Bishop Sithembele Sipuka.

The Catholic Church leaders in South Africa, Botswana, and Eswatini further say, “We need a shift in mind-set, a collective conversion of heart and mind, which affirms that violent protests and destruction of property can never be a just response to the current economic hardships and economic injustice.”

They add, “We reiterate Pope Francis’ call in Fratelli Tutti, reminding all that: in face of political and economic problems there is always a possibility of choosing constructive engagement over violence.”

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This is the latest call by religious leaders to South Africans to end violence that was sparked by protests following former President Jacob Zuma’s incarceration on July 7.

In a Monday, July 12 statement, the leadership of KwaZulu-Natal Christian Council (KZNCC) condemned the ongoing violence in the South African Province, saying the destruction of property witnessed during protests is “totally unacceptable.”

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms possible the violence that has wreaked havoc in our province; destroying property, infrastructure and businesses, intimidating innocent people and causing widespread fear and anxiety. We state that this is totally unacceptable and cannot, under any circumstances be tolerated,” KZNCC representatives said.

The Christian leaders noted that the wave of violence in the Province and other neighboring South African Provinces had been caused by “different viewpoints and opinions” that they said need to be urgently harmonized through dialogue. 

In their July 13 statement, SACBC members make reference to Pope Francis’ caution against violence when he visited Africa a couple of years ago, saying, “We wish to draw attention to the caution by Pope Francis during his visit to Mozambique in 2019 that, sometimes, it takes small steps of violence for a nation to descend into full-fledged anarchy, an endless spiral of violence and massive bloodshed.”

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They add, “The Pope said that no family, no group of neighbors or ethnic group and even less, no country has a future if the motor that unites them, brings them together and resolves their differences is composed of violence and vengeance.”

“Presently, certain parts of our country, namely, Kwazulu-Natal and Gauteng are engulfed by violence and looting that started off as protest against the incarceration of former president Jacob Zuma, with fear that this might spread wider,” the Catholic Bishops say, and appeal on South Africans not to allow the difference of opinion on political matters to be hijacked by what they refer to as criminal intentions to create anarchy in the country.

The violence, they warn, will put the country “in a worse social and economic situation than we presently find ourselves in.”

“We condemn in strong terms the glaring criminal elements that are taking advantage of this situation,” SACBC members further say.

As a way forward, they say, “We call upon individuals who are involved in vandalism and thuggery to give a thought to the livelihood of many people that they are jeopardizing by destroying their places of employment.”

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The Catholic Church leaders call on the people not to put the lives of others at risk by creating avenues for the spread of the COVID-19 through the protests and violence.

“We must also remember that we are in the height of COVID-19 pandemic that thrives in the conditions of disorder that we see, and that the longer these conditions prevail, the more we put ourselves and others in danger of infection that will be difficult to deal with,” they say.

They have appealed to those inciting the violence and looting for political ends “to rise above political interests, to protect life and to preserve the common good.”

The members of SACBC further recall that it was only dialogue and not violence that brought democracy to South Africa many years ago.

They admit that people are going through a lot of suffering but urge caution saying, “As we navigate some difficult routes of this democratic journey let us continue to choose the path of dialogue to settle our differences as brothers and sisters united by the love of our country and the desire for its prosperity for the good of all who reside and work in it.”

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They explain, “The path of dialogue is long and arduous, but it is the only one that can help us to keep our attention focused, to penetrate to the heart of matters, and to recognize what is essential.”

The Catholic Bishops further admit that the country is going through a crisis that they say has been occasioned hugely by extreme economic inequalities as well as economic hardships suffered by the poor during the pandemic.

They say that the government, business and the corporate sector have, over the years, failed to address social issues affecting the people in a comprehensive manner.

According to the Catholic Bishops, what started off as a difference of opinion has sparked off a wildfire of violence and looting because the “dry grass of poverty has been left to overgrow over decades.”

“A big contributing factor to this ‘dry grass’ of poverty is the lack of efficient leadership in government and unethical practices in business,” SACBC members say in their July 13 statement shared with ACI Africa.

They add, “We call for a return to efficient leadership at all levels of government that will see service being delivered to the people and business enabling all to participate meaningfully in the economic system.”

Officials of the Jesuit Institute South Africa have also joined the call to those involved in violence “to stop immediately.”

“It is our own brothers and sisters that we are harming, not the elites or political tricksters who live securely and are shielded from the violence and destruction. They are not affected; they do not suffer. We appeal to you; stop the violence for your own sakes!” members of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) say in their July 13 statement.

They further urge politicians from all persuasions to stop using the ongoing crisis in South Africa to manipulate people by spewing irresponsible comments and incitements in mainstream media and on social media.

“You are not showing leadership by being politically expedient and this incitement must be condemned,” the Jesuits say in their message to politicians in the country, and add, “Those who are inciting people on social media must be held accountable. Social media platforms have the moral responsibility to monitor incitement.”

The Jesuits further call for the return to the rule of law, urging those in leadership to ensure that right processes in the country’s constitution and the judiciary system are respected.

Further, they call on religious leaders to address their followers and to offer direction as South Africa goes through what they refer to as a terrible crisis.

The Jesuits further call on those in leadership to ensure that South Africa’s high levels of poverty, inequality, and unemployment are “not addressed, but acted upon in a concrete manner” and that corruption is dealt with decisively.

“South Africans are tired of empty promises. Corruption has to be stamped out because this is a strong ingredient in the current crisis,” the Jesuits say.

They reiterate the message of other religious leaders who have called for the end to violence in the country, saying, “The liberty of all is threatened if South Africa responds to the massive challenges we face on the current violent trajectory.”

“Our hard fought for democracy is at stake and will lead to the wholesale destruction of this land. The civil anarchy and mayhem must end,” they say, and add, “We appeal to all South Africans to stop the violence. Serious problems afflict us, this is undeniable, but violence will never move us forward.”