By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
As the world continues to struggle with challenges caused by the coronavirus health crisis, the African continent has recorded just over 900,000 cases.
Like many other countries, South Africa implemented early precautionary measures following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. However, the country’s rapidly growing infection rate now places it as the fifth worst-hit country in the world. More than half of the reported cases in Africa are recorded in South Africa.
On Thursday, the South African government once again closed public schools in the country for four weeks (27 July to 24 August) in a bid to limit the spread of the virus amid surging infections. Schools were first closed on 27 March when the government introduced a nationwide lockdown. Subsequently, they were reopened in early June.
As of Friday, South Africa has 482,169 registered coronavirus cases, 7,812 deaths and just over 300,000 recovered patients.
On Monday, the International Monetary Fund approved $4.3 billion in emergency assistance to South Africa to support the government’s efforts in challenging the health crisis and the severe economic impact that comes in its wake.
In the face of the nation's spiking infection curve, Bishop Sithembele Sipuka of Umtata, President of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) spoke to Vatican News on the Church’s response to the health emergency situation in the country.
Role of the Church
Bishop Sipuka highlighted that the Church is playing a role in supporting the government’s efforts, as well as being an agent of hope in these challenging times.
“The Church is cooperating with all concerned bodies including the government,” Bishop Sipuka said, “especially since the government is giving clear directives” concerning the nation’s response to the crisis.
He explained that the Church is diligently following the “advice of scientific information to the people of South Africa” regarding Covid-19 safety regulations.
For that reason, “we have carefully opened churches under very strict regulations,” he said.
Also, continued the Bishop, the Church is “encouraging mutual support and prayers for each other so that we can cope.”
Explaining that the Catholic Church is a minority in the country, Bishop Sipuka stressed the importance of collaborating with other Christian denominations in the fight against Covid-19.
“We cannot hope alone as Catholics to be able to make a significant contribution without working with other people,” said Bishop Sipuka. “We are working at an ecumenical level so that we can cooperate on an effective solution to the problem.”
“We work with ministers of other churches in order to identify people who are negatively affected by this in our area regardless of which church they belong to, so that we can access means of helping them."
The Church’s concrete gestures
Due to the economic hardships caused by the pandemic, many people have lost their jobs. They consequently find it difficult to get food. The Church is responding to that need by concentrating its efforts on that front.
“We are continuing to do what we have been doing in cases of need. We give food to those who are in need,” said Bishop Sipuka.
That is not all. Bishop Sipuka said that among other things, the Church is also providing counseling services to those in need and participating in awareness campaigns to educate people about the Covid-19 virus.