Paul Samasumo – Vatican City
South Africa’s Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier OFM, the Archbishop of Durban, has announced his Coadjutor’s death, Archbishop Abel Gabuza.
A tremendous loss to the Church
“It is with the greatest sorrow that we announce the death of our Coadjutor Archbishop, Abel Gabuza,” Cardinal Napier said. Archbishop Gabuza died at Hillcrest Hospital at 11.45 on Sunday morning, said the Cardinal. He added, “The Archbishop had not been with us in Durban long -just short of two years- but in that time we came to recognise him as a gentle, caring and warm-hearted pastor. Through his gentleness, caring and warmth, he made an immediate impact on everyone who was privileged to make his acquaintance. That’s an added reason why his passing is such a tremendous loss to us and the entire Church in Southern Africa,” said Cardinal Napier.
In a tweet posted on 10 January 2021, Cardinal Napier appealed for “spiritual solidarity” with Archbishop Abel Gabuza. At the time, the latter was said to be in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) with the second strain of COVID-19. “Please pray for the Coadjutor Archbishop of Durban, Abel Gabuza, who has tested COVID-19 positive, and is in ICU,” Cardinal Napier wrote.
Appointed future Archbishop of Durban
As Coadjutor, it was foreseen that Archbishop Gabuza would succeed Cardinal Napier as the Archbishop of Durban. The Cardinal who has been Archbishop of Durban since 1992 and who was raised to the College of Cardinals in 2001, tendered his resignation in 2016 on his 75th birthday, in line with the provisions of Canon Law. Pope Francis, however, asked Cardinal Napier to stay on for a while as Ordinary of the Archdiocese.
Archbishop Gabuza was born on 23 March 1955. Pope Francis on 9 December 2018, appointed Archbishop Gabuza, until then Bishop of Kimberley Diocese in South Africa, as Coadjutor of the Archdiocese of Durban.
Strong on social justice issues
Archbishop Gabuza was raised in the township of Alexandra, during the difficult days of Apartheid. He would recall the challenges of growing up in the township. His mother sent him to a boarding school, partly as a way of protecting the young Gabuza. His father died when he was still young. Archbishop Gabuza always gave his mother credit as one of those who shaped his call and outlook on life. He was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Pretoria on 15 December 1984.
During his time as Bishop-chair of the Justice and Peace Commission under the auspices of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop Gabuza furthered his reputation as a forthright, respected and even outspoken Bishop on matters of corruption and social justices.
At the time of his appointment as Coadjutor Archbishop of Durban, Archbishop Gabuza spoke of his apprehension about moving from a mostly rural Kimberley Diocese to the more cosmopolitan Archdiocese of Durban.