Bishops: We Can Renew South Africa on May 8
Political and corporate sectors have betrayed the trust of the South African people, and the general election on May 8 “presents all South Africans with the opportunity to renew our vision” for the country, according to the bishops of Southern African.
Twenty-five years after the memorable elections of 1994, “we celebrate that we have been able both to defend and to develop our democracy”, the bishops note in a pastoral letter on the 2019 general and provincial elections.
“We are grateful to good and honest people who have worked heroically and selflessly in the service of the nation. We are thankful also that the foundational institutions of our democracy have stood the test of time,” they said.
“Sadly, we have also come to see a darker side of political life. Recent commissions of enquiry have and are exposing individuals in both the political and corporate sectors who have tragically betrayed the public trust and placed their own self-interest ahead of the common good of the country.”
The May 8 elections therefore present South Africans “with the opportunity to renew our vision for South Africa”.
“We have the power to choose the direction our country will take. It is imperative that we choose wisely and courageously and not be distracted by false promises,” the bishops said.
Tough questions that seek honesty and truth must be asked.
“Our primary concern, as your spiritual leaders, is that we choose leaders who will promote the good of all by living the values of the Constitution in the light of the Gospel,” the bishops said, referring to Pope Francis who urges us to look for “politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor” (Evangelii Gaudium, 205).
As voters decide whom to vote for, the bishops asked them to consider who they think would:
- eradicate corruption more effectively;
- provide realistic programmes to overcome unemployment and poverty;
- appoint selfless public servants as leaders at national and provincial level;
- effectively reduce the level of violence tyrannising our people;
- transform those attitudes and practices which underlie the violence against women and children;
- respond effectively to the aspirations of our youth;
- fulfil the promises they make rather than disappoint us;
- protect our democracy and its institutions.
“In short, who do you think would make us proud to be South Africans?” the bishops said, adding: “Each one must answer these questions according to their conscience.”
The bishops appealed to voters to vote not only to advance their own personal interests—“be they interests of race, ethnic group or social and economic class”—but also for the common good.
“Let us keep in mind the poor, the unemployed and the disadvantaged — it is Our Lord who reminds us that, whatever we do to the least of his brothers and sisters, we do to him” (Mt 25:40).
The bishops called on political parties, civil society and citizens to ensure a peaceful, free and fair election.
“We each have a grave responsibility to create the environment of tolerance and acceptance which enables every South African to support and vote for the party that they choose, without fear of violence and intimidation,” the bishops said.
“While this responsibility falls heavily on the political parties and the media, we urge the organs of state to proactively ensure the safety of all,” they said, adding that it is also “the responsibility of each one of us to work for peaceful and free and fair elections”.
They urged political parties to refrain from inflammatory, intimidating and inappropriate statements; to take visible, decisive action when candidates and their supporters are involved in acts of intolerance, intimidation, harassment and disturbance; to respect the election results; and to do everything to ensure that the rule of law is respected.
The bishops also urged called on the media to refrain from sensationalism, and to report appropriately and responsibly for the benefit of the common good.
Citizens could also contribute, the bishops suggested, by assisting the Independent Electoral Commission to monitor these elections by volunteering as observers and assisting with conflict management.
The bishop issued a prayer which they suggested can be said in your families and parishes in preparation for the elections.