The IMBISA Catholic Bishops Concerned about Elections in the SADC Region

As part of a workshop on AU and SADC principles for elections the IMBISA Election Observation Team produced the following statement on elections in the region.His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has, in his Apostolic Exhortation, Africae Munus, encouraged the Church in Africa to contribute towards the creation of a just society in the spirit of the Beatitudes,

The disciple of Christ, in union with his Master, must help to create a just society where all will be able to participate actively, using their particular talents, in social and economic life. They will thus be able to obtain what they need in order to live in accordance with their human dignity in a society where justice is animated by love. Christ does not propose a revolution of a social or political kind, but a revolution of love, brought about by his complete self-giving through his death on the Cross and his resurrection. The Beatitudes are built upon this revolution of love (cf. Mt.5:3-10). They provide a new horizon of justice, inaugurated in the paschal mystery, through which we can become just and can build a better world. (#26)

In this spirit, the church in southern Africa is inspired to make its contribution towards building a better world.

The Roman Catholic Church has grown deep roots in the soil of Africa. It has developed and matured from being a missionary church to being African. Through our presence on the continent and through our various activities in schools, hospitals, social work and development institutions, we have come to share the joys and hopes, the pains and anxieties of the people of Africa. As the church, we share and care for the destiny of the African continent. This is why we are deeply concerned about what happens to her economy, politics, and culture even though our special focus is the spiritual welfare of its people.

As the bishops of IMBISA we are concerned that while the southern African region has scored many developmental achievements, there are still major obstacles to the democratisation of the region.

We believe that deeper democracy in the region can help our societies to uphold and expand the dignity of all persons and fulfil the values and principles of the social teaching of the church. We support the efforts that have been taken to liberate our people in the region and call upon all our governments, political parties and members of civil society to work together towards expanding and deepening that liberation through making the commitment to respect all life and uphold the dignity of all persons and all of God’s creation.

We are concerned that electoral processes in our region have not yet reached a stage where they can be regarded as fully respecting the lives and dignity of each and every individual. Neither are they conducted in the spirit of the common good, fraternal solidarity and the option for those who are impoverished and marginalised by our political, economic and social systems. We believe there is great room for improvement if our societies work towards eliminating political violence, economic marginalisation and cultural disrespect of persons. The Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops made a strong appeal for the security of life and property.
This Synod reminds our African governments of this fact and appeals to them for security of life and property. Life is sacred and must be protected and secured. Governments should put in place a machinery to stop killings, kidnapping, etc., on the continent. Insecurity of life and property and a lack of good order increases migration and the brain drain and, this, in turn, adds to poverty. (Proposition No. 15)
As a regional body we encourage the cultivation of fraternal relationships between people of the region. The African Union and the Southern African Development Community have made commendable efforts towards these goals.  They have grappled with the need to build democratic institutions, processes and social cultures. They have worked towards banishing political violence, intimidation, abuse and exclusion from our political cultures and procedures. It is in this context that we, the Catholic Bishops of the IMBISA region have made commitment to participate in the democratisation of the electoral systems in the region. We believe the church can contribute through its values to the strengthening of the region’s electoral processes.

Since independence from colonialism, African people have experienced violence at every occasion of national elections in the region. As the church we have observed political violence which has been perpetrated in the pre-election, during and in the post-election period. We have observed and recorded the recurrence of intimidation, violence and systematic undermining of the physical, social and intellectual dignity of citizens in many countries of the southern African region. In many of these countries, citizens have come to dread the period of elections. Because of past experiences, many African citizens almost always expect elections to lead into political violence. Ruling parties on the other hand have developed the culture of intimidation to secure electoral victory. Because of their monopoly of power, political alternatives have been destroyed and this has undermined democracy in our societies. Governments have not encouraged the growth of strong legitimate alternative political movements in order to facilitate the deepening of our democratic traditions and freedom.
Citizens by their vote freely express their political choice. Thus, democratic elections represent the mark of legitimacy for the exercise of power in Africa. Failure to respect a national Constitution, the law or the results of free, fair and transparent elections, therefore, is unacceptable under any circumstances. (Proposition 26)
This post-colonial political violence is threatening to destroy the meaning of our independence. We want to know the causes of political violence and how they can be uprooted from among our people, political parties and governments. We are destroying ourselves through this violence and unnecessary wars which have brought a curse to the region. God is against the shedding of blood and the humiliation of his children. He also gives us hope in his salvation. In Ecclesia in Africa, Pope John Paul II reminded the church of its duty to bring hope to the world.

Despite the mainly negative picture which today characterizes numerous parts of Africa and despite the sad situations being experienced in many countries, the church has the duty to affirm vigorously that these difficulties can be overcome. She must strengthen in all Africans hope of genuine liberation. (#14)

The church can help the people to have more trust in state institutions in order to make democracy work. In this effort, we recognise the importance of strong, objective
media as a credible tool for widening and deepening democracy in our region. Our media needs to help people with information about social and political realities and to encourage them to participate in the democratisation of their respective countries and region. As the church, we urge all people of faith to pray for justice, peace and the cultivation of democratic culture in our region. May the Lord help us in our desire to realise the values and principles of the church’s social teachings which include the common good, social solidarity, universal destination of the earth’s goods, stewardship of creation participation  and option for the marginalised and impoverished.

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