By Lisa Zengarini
As violence and looting spread this week in South Africa, leaving more than 70 dead in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces, South-African Bishops have called for calm and dialogue, warning that “it takes small steps of violence for a nation to descend into full-fledged anarchy and massive bloodshed”.
The country’s worst unrest in years
Protests, were triggered last week by the incarceration of former ANC President Jacob Zuma, who has been sentenced to serve 15 months in jail for defying an instruction to give evidence at an inquiry into corruption during his nine years in power until 2018. Demonstrations have rapidly degenerated into clashes with the police in several areas of the country and on Tuesday looters ransacked shopping centres, amidst growing frustrations over widespread poverty and inequality. .
Violence leads to anarchy and jeopardizes the livelihood of many people
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the President of Southern African Bishops’ Conference (SACBC), Bishop Sithembele Sipuka of Mthatha, condemned “in strong terms” the “criminal elements” that are taking advantage of the crisis, to “create anarchy, with the result of making the social and economic situation in country worse. The prelate called upon individuals who are involved in vandalism and thuggery “to give a thought to the livelihood of many people that they are jeopardising by destroying their places of employment”, pointing out that the on-going COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa thrives in the conditions of disorder.
The need for dialogue and to rise above political interests
Bishops also urge those who incite this violence and looting for political ends, “to rise above political interests, to protect life and to preserve the common good”. Reminding that it was dialogue and not violence that allowed a peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy in South-Africa, they call on everybody to “continue to choose the path of dialogue” to settle their differences.
Lack of efficient leadership
At the same time, the statement acknowledges the underlying social causes of the unrest: that is the “extreme economic inequalities as well as economic hardships suffered by the poor during the pandemic”, all of which the government, as well as the business and the corporate sector “have failed to address in a comprehensive manner”. “A big contributing factor to ‘dry grass’ of poverty is the lack of efficient leadership in government and unethical practices in business”, bishops remark. However, they reiterate that violence and vandalism are not the answers: “We need a shift in mind-set, a collective conversion of heart and mind, which affirms that violent protests and destruction of property can never be a just response to the current economic hardships and economic injustice”, the statement reads, reminding that in face of political and economic problems “there is always a possibility of choosing constructive engagement over violence”.
Chosing life instead of violence
Finally, the South-African bishops invite all parts “to make a choice for life”, which will manifest in a desire to “cooperate, build and dialogue, pardon, grow, respect sacredness of life, the dignity and freedom of others, and loving commitment to the welfare of all”, as recalled in Pope Francis’ ‘Fratelli Tutti’ Encyclical.