Paul Samasumo – Vatican City
Bishop Sipuka was speaking at the start of the SACBC plenary assembly in South Africa. Referencing the political situation of South Africa that ushered in current President, Cyril Ramaphosa, Bishop Sipuka warned against the tendency of a nation placing all its hopes and aspirations in one person. He called for collective effort in dealing with the country’s ills.
During Apartheid, the Church was close to the people
Concerning South Africa’s violent protests and xenophobic attacks that keep recurring, Bishop Sipuka said South African Bishops need to engage more closely with the country’s ordinary citizens.
“One of the major problems we face in South Africa are violent protests, which often undermine their cause and make the people engaging in them look unreasonable because they destroy the facilities, they have in order to get another facility. If they want a road, they will destroy a clinic, and if they are angry against crime, they burn a school,” Bishop Sipuka said.
He continued, “Part of this violence is due, I think, to our absence as Church leaders. When people are left alone in desperate situations, they resort to emotionally desperate and destructive measures. If we journey with them, we can facilitate more constructive engagement with elected leaders. Some may recall during Apartheid how some potentially destructive protests turned constructive, thanks partly to the presence of Church leaders. As Church leaders, we are not with the people in their struggle, at least not as much as we used to be during Apartheid. We have retreated to the sacristies and occasional pastoral statements,” the SACBC President.
South Africa’s economy works only for the wealthy few
Bishop Sipuka also challenged the structure of South Africa’s economy as one that works to the benefit of a few prosperous persons.
“One thing that is clear to everyone is that the present system of the economy to which the (South African) Reserve Bank is closely linked is benefitting very few people and the majority are left out. As Pope Francis frequently states, the prevailing economy is the economy of exclusion and inequality and needs to be changed. Given the enormity of economic inequality in the world, and with our country counted among those with the widest gap between the rich and the poor, there should be no institution that is insulated from dealing with this problem,” he said.
Issues around land expropriation are not taboo
The SACBC President believes that a healthy debate even over contentious issues such as land ownership must be allowed to prevail. He said the Church could not afford to stay aloof but must find constructive ways to engage with some of South Africa’s historical inequalities.
“It will be recalled how the expropriation of land without compensation when it was first mooted was like a monstrous taboo. It was feared that talking about it would bring this country to tatters, yet today expropriation of land without compensation is viewed as something doable and we have since realised that we are a worldwide Church, and it is this worldwide character and its long tradition of social teachings that should give us the courage to say that as the Church we must make a contribution on the debates about possibilities of an inclusive economy. The concerns about the economy cannot be allowed to be the domain of the Economic Freedom Fighters (political party) alone,” the prelate of Mthatha said. He added, “There was a time when I thought that talking about systems of the economy is too big for us as a Church and that we should rather focus on random issues that emerge.” Debate on the structure of the economy and matters of land must be encouraged until constructive solutions are found, Bishops Sipuka said.
The Bishops Conference must resolutely deal with clerical sexual abuse
The Bishop also spent time talking about the role that the Bishops’ Conference can play in tackling issues of clerical sexual abuse. Bishop Sipuka said all South Africa’s dioceses must have a child safety policy that is comprehensive and genuinely aims at the protection of minors.
Another matter close to the Bishop’s heart is the scourge of drug abuse, especially among South Africa’s younger people.
SACBC pledges support for SECAM
Bishop Sipuka, who last week, in Uganda, was elected continental Vice President of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) shared his experience as a participant. He encouraged the Southern African Bishops to support the continental episcopal association because it offers Bishops of Africa an effective platform for sharing their “pastoral joys and challenges.”