By Paschal Norbert
PRETORIA, FEBRUARY 9, 2024 (CISA) – “For the good of the country, vote according to your experience and your conscience, not according to unquestioning loyalty to one or another political party. Consider what is important for the whole nation, not just what is good for you personally, your political party, and its alliance partners,” appeals the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) ahead of the 2024 National and Provincial Elections.
In a pastoral letter on the forthcoming elections dated February 8, the Catholic Bishops in Southern Africa challenged the electorate to reflect on their 30 years of democracy and vote to rebuild their nation in light of the challenges the country is currently facing due to poor governance.
Using an analogy of the scriptures (Haggai 1: 5, 60), the bishops said “The prophet Haggai calls us to examine how we have journeyed as a nation and consider how we could do it differently… we experience the ever-growing gap between those who have and have not, deteriorating infrastructure, rampant corruption on the part of self-serving citizens, and violence. But we do not allow ourselves to be robbed of the hope that together, we can keep to our vision of a country which is home to all.”
“So, as Catholic leaders, we call on all our fellow Catholics and all South Africans to keep working for a better future in our country. We must not give way to paralyzing disillusionment and despair. These only lead to more hopelessness, discouraging our youth, in particular, from taking their rightful place in the democratic institutions, which are the pillars of our democracy for which so many have sacrificed so much,” appealed the bishops.
With President Cyril Ramaphosa expected to announce the date for the 2024 national elections within 15 days of the State of the Nation Address, which was held on February 8, observers have said the elections will be a litmus test for his ruling African National Congress (ANC) party that is has been in government for 30 years.
They argue that these elections may see ANC lose a majority of the national vote due to the challenges that South Africans are facing, including record unemployment, an electricity crisis and corruption allegations that have painted most of its leadership including President Ramaphosa.
In the pastoral letter, the bishops urge the electorate to be aware and ready for the possibility of a coalition government and thus, should take necessary caution on how they vote.
They explain, “Since the elections may result in coalitions, consider how your vote may contribute to the formation of a coalition government. Coalitions must not reproduce the divisive and even toxic situations that we have witnessed in some places.”
“Use your vote,’ they say, “Nobody should remain at home.”
“Using our right to vote is one way of choosing life. The election and its results will determine whether the country will be placed on a different path from the current path of corruption and incompetence…We strongly appeal to all eligible voters to go out and vote and send a message to incoming parliamentarians,” they add.
The prelates cautioned the electorate about selfish leaders and urged them to evaluate each political leader by being “Mindful of the sacrifices that so many made during the struggle against apartheid.”
They said, “We are disgusted by what we have seen and experienced, seeing how many of our leaders feed themselves, betraying the legitimate dreams of our people… We have seen the parable of the rich man and Lazarus become a reality before our eyes. Many of our leaders banquet sumptuously using state funds while the poor, who are the legitimate beneficiaries of these funds, are left hungry outside the gate to the mercy of the dogs. (Luke 16:19-31).”
In the pastoral letter, the bishops also launched the 2024 Election Prayer and provided resources for people to use to prepare for the elections.