Bishop Sithembele Sipuka, President of Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference 

By Vatican News staff writer

Dec 3 2020

Bishop Sithembele Sipuka of Mthatha, President of the South African Bishops’ Conference, reflects on the state of the nation and the Church in South Africa as the year ends.

As the year 2020 comes to an end, Bishop Sithembele Sipuka, President of the South African Bishops’ Conference, reiterates the importance of reflecting on the experiences of the year because through them, “our characters were being shaped and hopefully conformed more to the image of Christ”.

Beginning at the personal level, the Bishop proposes that the South African faithful reflect in relation to the social, economic and political contexts in order to facilitate appropriate responses from both those in power and those they lead.

In this regard, he highlights three striking signs during the year: the Covid-19 pandemic, South Africa’s fight against corruption, and the necessity of improved administration.

Global pandemic

Bishop Sipuka noted that despite the government’s efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus when it first emerged, the upsurge of the Covid-19 pandemic – the “most and immediate sign of our time”- is “a sign of fatigue among ordinary people about Covid-19.”

Explaining further, he said that the pandemic’s second wave, by most accounts, is “largely due to people not adhering to Covid-19 preventive measures” – not particularly for reasons of survival – but for cultural and entertainment reasons including funerals and ancestral-related functions. He notes that the non-observance of preventive measures for entertainment reasons is mostly prevalent among young people.

These practices, which sometimes involve gathering in groups or eating and drinking from common dishes, “provide the perfect opportunity for the spread of the virus,” said the Bishop. However, as some of these practices are “culturally and mentally entrenched,” he recommends modifying the partaking of the common food and drink by providing personal dishes for everyone to avoid the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

He reminds the people that “African ancestors and dead relatives are purported to value life and therefore should not mind if an ancestor function is postponed until Covid-19 pandemic is over or done differently in order to protect life.”

Therefore, against the practice of gathering in groups even if it endangers others, Bishop Sipuka recommends adopting the value of human solidarity proposed by Pope Francis in his latest Encyclical Fratelli tutti, and presenting to young people the value of postponing momentary pleasure for the common good.

Consequences for fighting corruption

Another striking sign in 2020 according to Bishop Sipuka is that “there are signs that corruption is finally being tackled.”

However, the Bishop warns that “as we rejoice about the prospect of corruption finally being dealt with, let us also prepare ourselves to deal with a situation where corrupt kingpins, to avoid jail sentences, will present themselves as political victims and incite people to violence and insubordination.”

Call for better administration

Bishop Sipuka also pointed out the provincial and local governments’ inefficiency in effectively using funds intended for providing services to poor people, leading to the funds recall by the national treasury.

At the same time, he noted that “as a Church, we are not completely innocent of this inefficiency,” as some priests and religious sometimes fall short on their administrative duties despite being generally efficient in their pastoral work.

Bishop Sipuka said that to effectively care for people, “we must have a plan of how to help them and evaluate it,” insisting that there is a link between simple administration and pastoral work. – Vatican News