SA Bishop on Covid: Change Attitudes
The president of the Southern African Bishops’ Conference has called for stronger law enforcement on violations of Covid prevention measures, but added that this will not enough if people are unwilling to embrace a culture of life.
Bishop Sithembele Sipuka of Mthatha noted with concern a surge in Civid-19 cases, especially in the Eastern Cape.
“With the government having tried to control the spread and effects of Covid-19 when it first emerged, this upsurge is a sign of fatigue among ordinary people about Covid-19. People are tired of Covid-19 restrictions,” the bishop said in a pastoral reflection.
“By most accounts, the upsurge, or the second wave is due largely to people not adhering to Covid-19 preventive measures,” he said. The reasons for these are different: for reasons of survival (such as people queuing for grants or for food parcels); and cultural and entertainment reasons, including funerals and ancestral related functions (imicimbi). “In these cultural events people gather closer to each other, they eat from the common dish (isithebe) and drink from the same billycan (ibhekile),” Bishop Sipuka noted..
“The disregard of regulations for Covid-19 for entertainment reasons manifesting in group gatherings and parties is committed largely by young people. These practices provide the perfect opportunity for the spread of the virus, and as leaders, whether we like it or not, we shall be involved in the aftermath of these fatal behaviours, so we must do something about this problem,” he said.
“It has been suggested that laws against these practices must once again be strongly enforced, but law enforcement alone cannot succeed to prevent these deadly practices because they are culturally and mentally entrenched. Other supportive values, beliefs and mental conversion that will motivate personal commitment to respect health protocols must also be resorted to. We need to appeal to the value of life which is uppermost among Africans,” the bishop said
“African ancestors and dead relatives are purported to value life and therefore should not mind if an ancestor function is postponed until the Covid-19 pandemic is over, or done differently in order to protect life. If they do it, they could be encouraged for example, to drink the traditional beer (Umqombothi) with personal mugs or jugs instead of drinking from the same billycan. They could also eat from disposable individual Styrofoam dishes instead of eating from the common dish (isithebe) while respecting the recommended social distance. If the ritual involves smoking, provision for individual instead of shared smoking could also be made,” Bishop Sipuka advised.
“Indeed, over the past century of colonialism and apartheid which changed the traditional social settings of the local people, the performance of ancestor rituals has been drastically modified and adapted. It is therefore not undoable to propose different ways of carrying out ancestral related functions as we are also doing Church service differently,” he said, adding that this message we should conveyed in sermons and Church communications.
Bishop Sipuka said that “the root of the practice of gathering in groups and partying by the young people and thus posing the danger of Covid-19 transmission is the prevailing hedonistic culture that propagates pursuance of pleasure at all costs, even if that means inconveniencing and endangering others”. To counter this selfish mindset, young people should be presented with “the value of human solidarity proposed by Pope Francis in his latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, and the value of postponing momentary pleasure for the common good”.
“More importantly, we need to point out that the present inconvenience imposed by the Covid-19 regulations is nothing compared to the inconvenience to social life and economy that will come about from infection with Covid-19, there will be a lot tears and regret,” Bishop Sipuka said.
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