Paul Samasumo – Vatican City.
Bishop Sithembele Sipuka, the Bishop of Mthatha Diocese and President of the SACBC, was accompanied to the meeting with Eswatini’s Deputy Prime Minister, Themba Masuku, by senior officials of the SACBC. The SACBC’s local host, Bishop José Luis Ponce de León, the only Catholic Bishop in Eswatini, also attended the meeting. As a member of the Bishops Conference, Bishop de León serves as a focal person for Church-state relations.
A solidarity visit on behalf of SACBC
In remarks to the Eswatini Deputy Prime Minister, Bishop Sipuka described his visit as one of solidarity.
“After hearing about challenges this beautiful country is facing, some of them similar to those of South Africa, and not at all claiming that we have a solution, we decided as both neighbours and Church leaders, to make this solidarity visit and we thank you, Your Excellency, for the time you have granted us despite the short notice,” Bishop Sipuka said.
Citizens of Eswatini are peace-loving people
Bishops Sipuka continued, “In the context of these sad experiences that the Kingdom of Eswatini is going through and their negative impact on the lives of citizens of this country, the Catholic Church strongly affirms the possibility of overcoming the obstacles that prevent a solution to these experiences. The confidence about the possibility of overcoming obstacles is based first on the peace-loving character of EmaSwati for which this Kingdom is known,” the Bishop affirmed.
The recent Eswatini protests
Eswatini is a landlocked country in Southern Africa bordering South Africa and Mozambique, with a population of 1.2 million people. The COVID-19 situation in the country has had a severe impact on the country’s economy. The country has also suffered from adverse weather patterns and a high unemployment rate.
Things came to a head a few months ago when demonstrators agitating for more democratic space and reforms gained impetus -largely driven by protesting young people. The demonstrations elicited a violent reaction from authorities. There were scenes not normally associated with Eswatini.
Disturbances threaten the whole region
Bishop Sipuka said the challenges of violence, destruction of property, use of excessive force by the security personnel, and deaths witnessed in the country were a threat to the citizens of Eswatini and the whole Southern African region.
“Your Excellency, 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 an environment for order, development and the promotion of justice,” Bishop Sipuka said.
SACBC praying for Eswatini
Bishop Sipuku further assured his Eswatini hosts that the Catholic Church in Southern Africa is praying for the country, which he said, had “served for many years as a reference point for peace in the region.”
SACBC brings together Catholic Bishops in Southern Africa from Botswana, Eswatini, and South Africa.