In South Africa, where the ruling African National Congress has won the General Election, the Catholic Church, that played a prophetic role in the achievement of democracy in the nation, continues to be a pillar in the building of a just society.

By Linda Bordoni

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has led the African National Congress (ANC) to victory in Wednesday’s national election.

However, a drop in its share of the vote underlines the challenge he faces restoring confidence in his party.

With opponents within the ANC and an emboldened far-left opposition party, Ramaphosa may struggle to push through tough reforms and deliver much need reforms in the fight for social justice.

The Parliamentary Liaison Office of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference  is the official vehicle for contact and dialogue between the Catholic Church in South Africa on the one hand, and the country’s Parliament and government on the other.  It provides an avenue for the Church – as part of civil society – to contribute to debates on issues of public policy, to exert an influence for the common good in areas of political, economic and social concern, and to help shape legislative and policy developments.

It’s director, Father Peter John Pearson, told Linda Bordoni he is hopeful for Ramaphosa’s  renewed mandate and says his team are optimistic thanks to an increased respect for the culture of dialogue.

Father Peter John expressed his hope that a renewed mandate for the President, whom he said, has shown good leadership for the past year that he has been in office.

The people he said, also feel listened to following “the continuing probes that have been very far-reaching into corruption, state capture and all the problems that have afflicted the country over the last 9 or 10 years”, and are hopeful that “they will be brought to the fore and that there will be appropriate punishment for those who are guilty”.

“I think the country is hoping for that: it will restore morale in the country, and economic confidence” he said.

He explained that after a quarter of a century, the people are really hoping that a renewed mandate in different hands and leadership of that ANC will address some of the most deprivations they are subjected to: informal housing, an increase in poverty, poor educational opportunities despite the biggest education budget in Africa.

Father Peter John said he believes that the most important thing for the government that comes in, would be to harness this hope and do something practical with it; implement it in ways that are more far-reaching than all the rhetoric that has so often filled the political space.

The Church enabling dialogue and development

Father Peter John expressed optimism regarding the work he and his team are carrying out for the people of South Africa, saying that he feels empowered: “We find the space and the respect for a culture of dialogue and for platforms that are able to do that, are increasing again and are respected again”.

He said the core work the Catholic Church did to bring people together to discuss policy options, to think of ways forward “is having its own springtime again and we participate in that fully”.

He added that the work the Church does in education and in the house care sector, will absolutely have to continue.

He also highlighted the crucial value of some of the more innovative processes or programmes implemented by small groups that are Church-based or Church funded at local level “around  the cultivation of land, around small scale industrial activity” and expressed his determination that they continue.

“We have got to break the iniquitous cycle of poverty.  At the moment our biggest contribution is to be thought processors – looking how to see how we can best attack these big problems”,  he said.

At the same time, Father Peter John continued, because we believe in subsidiarity, we can continue to give support to the small programmes that  are the ones breaking the cycle of poverty in so many local contexts.

“As Church we are able to speak to both ends of the spectrum and bring those ends of the spectrum into discussion: that’s a positive place to be at the moment”, he said.

Relying on prayers and support of men and women of goodwill

But his gaze also reaches beyond local limitations as, he says, “we rely on the prayers and support of  people who want to see a flourishing of democracy in places where that’s been severely tested”.

It is necessary, he underscores, to strengthen the culture of speaking to power with unbridled integrity.

“I think support for those kinds of initiatives and people, he concludes, is always important, especially from people outside our country”.

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