By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
Several bishops have expressed concern and are calling for calm in Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), where pro-democracy protests have broken out in recent days, with dozens reportedly killed and massive damage done to property in conflicts between demonstrators and security forces.
Unrest first began in the last absolute monarchy in Africa in May when students took to the streets to call for accountability for the death of a 25-year-old student, allegedly at the hands of police. The tragic incident sparked protests that have escalated into calls for an end to the rule of King Mswati III.
In a statement on Monday, the Inter-Regional Association of Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA), comprising bishops from Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, São Tomé & Príncipe, South Africa and Zimbabwe, appealed for restraint and a spirit of meaningful dialogue among all sectors of the Kingdom.
“As Bishops, we condemn the extrajudicial killings, indiscriminate arrests, abductions and torture that have since been reported. In the same breath we unequivocally condemn the destruction of both public and private property,” noted the statement signed President of IMBISA, Bishop Lúcio Muandala of Xai-Xai, Mozambique.
The destruction of property, the Bishops added, “works against the common good” as it is required for the integral development of the country.
Pope Francis calls for peace
Suggesting concrete steps towards peace, IMBISA reiterated Pope Francis’ appeal on Sunday in which he called on the people in the Kingdom of Eswatini to work for peace and the common good.
At the conclusion of the Angelus prayer on 4 July, Pope Francis prayed for Eswatini, highlighting the sad news of violence being reported. He called on the authorities and those who are expressing their aspirations for the future of the country to “work for the common good for dialogue, reconciliation and the creation of peace from the different viewpoints.”
The Bishops also called for the cessation of all forms of violence by both security forces and all those who have been involved in the looting and destruction of both public and private property.
Appeal to government, international community
Amid reports of an Internet shutdown in the country, the Bishops urged the government of the land-locked country to guarantee the provision of the means of communication.
“Human beings are so made that they cannot live, develop and find fulfillment except in the sincere gift of self to others,” the Bishops pointed out. Therefore, humans cannot fully know themselves apart from an encounter with other persons because “I communicate effectively with myself only insofar as I communicate with others.”
IMBISA went on to encourage the intervention of the international community, especially the Regional Block of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) so that lives may be spared.
“True statecraft is manifest when, in difficult times, we uphold high principles and think of the long-term common good,” the Bishops said.
Do not give up hope
“We call upon all the faithful in our IMBISA Region to pray that peace may be restored in the Kingdom of Eswatini as well as remembering in prayer those who have died and the injured as a result of the violence,” IMBISA said.
Even as the protests drag on, the Bishops went on to encourage all to continue observing the recommended Covid-19 protocols “so that life may be promoted and protected.”
They further called upon all citizens not to give up on hope despite the unfortunate events that have happened in the Kingdom of Eswatini.
“Hope is bold,” the bishops added. “it can look beyond personal convenience, the petty securities and compensations which limit our horizon, and it can open us up to grand ideals that make life more beautiful and worthwhile”.
Invitation to prayer
Separately, the Bishop José Luis Ponce de León of Eswatini’s lone diocese of Manzini has called on the faithful to pray for “the gift of wisdom and the gift of courage to break the cycle of violence and follow God’s will of the fullness of life” for everyone.
In a statement, the Bishop further declared Rosary prayer sessions in the diocese, every day at 6: 00 pm, from 5 – 11 July, during which the faithful will implore Our Lady’s intercession for an end to the violence in the country.
As part of the prayer initiative, Bishop Ponce de León also invited Priests to celebrate Masses and pray for reconciliation in the country.