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Make Efforts to Build “a peaceful, just” Eswatini: Regional Catholic Bishops to Premier

Members of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) with the Prime Minister of Eswatini. Credit: IMBISA

There is need for the people of God in the Kingdom of Eswatini to understand the severity of the instability in their nation and make conscious efforts to build “a peaceful and just society”, the leadership of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) has said. 

Bishop Sithembele Sipuka who was leading a three-nation SACBC delegation on a solidarity visit to Eswatini months after pro-democracy protests were violently suppressed spoke during a meeting with the Emaswati Prime Minister, Cleopas Dlamini.

"The purpose of our solidarity visit, Your Excellency, is to appeal to everybody, their majesties, the three arms of government, civic groups, and every individual, to be convinced of the seriousness of the present challenges and make efforts inspired by solidarity and love that will help in building a just and a peaceful society," Bishop Sipuka has been quoted as telling Eswatini’s Premier Friday, October 8

In the Friday, October 8 report, SACBC President adds that efforts toward a peaceful Eswatini “is what we see as demanded by the present moment and above all by the very dignity of the human person, the indestructible image of God the Creator, which is identical in each one of us.”

Unrest in Eswatini began in May when university students took to the streets to call for accountability for the death of their colleague, 25-year-old Thabani Nkomonye, allegedly at the hands of the police.

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The protests grew into daily pro-democracy marches in June, with protesters voicing deep-seated political and economic grievances. At least 50 people were reported dead. 

Last month, Bishop José Luis Ponce de León of Eswatini’s only Catholic Diocese, Manzini, expressed concern about the situation of uncertainty in the country following the pro-democracy protests in July.

“The government has not yet given any indications about the way forward and how the issues raised by the unrest would be addressed,” the Bishop of Manzini said. 

Bishop Ponce de León added, in reference to King Mswati III’s call for prayer in the country, “Action should follow prayer and that one should not expect God to solve our problems without our own commitment.”

The Local Ordinary of Manzini also described the situation in Africa’s only absolute monarchy as “calm with sporadic episodes of violence.”

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Speaking on behalf of SACBC members October 8, Bishop Sipuka said the “tremendous challenge” which include violence, destruction of property, use of excessive force by the security personnel, deaths “are not only a threat to EmaSwati but also to the whole Southern African Region.”

“It is worth noting, Your Excellency at stake is also the dignity of the human person, whose defence and promotion have been entrusted to us as leaders by the Creator, and which every person must do his or her best to uphold and defend,” Bishop Sipuka told Eswatini’s Premier, Mr. Dlamini.

Eswatini’s present situation, the Local Ordinary of South Africa’s Umtata Diocese further said, “does not seem to correspond to the defense of this dignity.”

“Our humble presence here is to add our own voice for peace, and if needed to collaborate in efforts that will see this country resolving differences peacefully and creating a new environment for order, development and promotion of justice,” the President of SACBC, which comprises Catholic Bishops in South Africa, Botswana and Eswatini said.

He added, “The Catholic Church feels profoundly involved in this enterprise and she hopes for its ultimate success.”

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Bishop Sipuka also expressed the hope that the people of God in Eswatini can overcome their current challenges and find lasting peace.

“In the context of these sad experiences that the kingdom of Eswatini is going through and their negative impact on the life of the citizens of this country, the Catholic Church strongly affirms the possibility of overcoming the obstacles that prevent a solution to these experiences,” the head of the SACBC delegation said.

The confidence about the possibility of overcoming obstacles is based “first on the peace-loving character of EmaSwati for which this Kingdom is known,” he explained.

The 61-year-old South African Bishop added, in reference to the Gospel of St. Matthew, “From the side of the Church this confidence is based on the divine promise guaranteeing the ever presence of our Lord Jesus Christ amongst those who believe in Him.”

Bishop Sipuka who said SACBC sent the delegation to Eswatini on a five-day solidarity visit after learning about the country’s unfortunate situation reiterated Pope Francis’ call for dialogue in the Southern African nation. 

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“Those who hold responsibility, and those who are manifesting their aspirations for the future of the country, to a common effort toward dialogue, reconciliation and the peaceful settlement of different positions,” Bishop Sipuka said October 8. 

Referencing Pope Francis’ Encyclical on fraternity, Fratelli Tutti, the Bishop emphasized the need for holding conversations to find solutions to Eswatini’s problem saying, “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 Catholic Church in Southern Africa is praying for this country which has served for many years as a reference point for peace in the region,” Bishop Sipuka said.

He implored, “We pray that God, the Almighty, may open the hearts and minds of all EmaSwati so that, together and in peace, they may find a solution that will open avenues for Justice, Peace and Development.”