Just days before handing over the Chairmanship of the regional bloc - Southern African Development Community (SADC) - to Swaziland, President Ian Khama has come under heavy criticism from the church for failing to resolve the leadership crisis unraveling in Lesotho, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Catholic Church Bishops, led by Vice President of Southern Africa Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) Bishop Valentine Seane, accuse SADC leaders of failing to compel Lesotho government to implement the recommendations of the Phumaphi report. Addressing the media in Gaborone on Thursday, Seane said initially they had hoped that SADC will put pressure on Lesotho government to implement the recommendations but were surprised when the regional body somersaulted. "Now they started giving Phakalithi Mosilili simpler recommendations to implement leaving out the most critical ones,” said Seane, who led the delegation of Catholic Bishops to Lesotho during the political turmoil.
Seane, who is also the Bishop of Gaborone Diocese, said they have engaged all the opposition leaders in Lesotho and even helped families of soldiers who are currently imprisoned. He said as the church they can only help on social causes but not interfere with the political developments, adding that in Lesotho they were giving a message of solidarity to their counterparts, Lesotho Catholic Bishop’s Conference (LCBC). Head of SACBC Communications Archbishop William Slattery revealed that they have once met with the widow of the assassinated Lesotho Defence Force former Commander Brigadier Mahao Maaparankoe and leader of opposition Tom Thabane who is currently in exile in South Africa. Archbishop Slattery said one of the reasons the Catholic Church is concerned about the situation in Lesotho is that 60% of the population are Catholics. The former head of the Lesotho army, Maaparankoe Mahao, was shot dead in June 2015 during an operation to arrest suspected coup plotters and SADC appointed a commission of inquiry into the assassination led by Justice Phumaphi.
In July 2015, Catholic bishop Archbishop Gerard Tlali Lerotholi of Maseru reported that he was on a hit list. Another issue that is of great concern to the Catholic bishops is lack of consistency by the SADC leaders on leadership issues. “Currently President Joseph Kabila wants to increase his tenure in office through constitutional amendments and Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe is refusing to step down while the country is going through political turmoil,” said Seane.
Asked what they have done to try and intervene in Zimbabwe crisis, Seane said as the church they prefer silent diplomacy which involves engaging relevant authorities, adding that they had a meeting with President Mugabe which lasted for more than three hours. “It was a very fruitful meeting because after that Mugabe agreed that the referendum which has been postponed on several occasions was held in 2013,” he said. The Referendum determined constitutional amendments to limit future Presidents to two terms in office and to allow for their removal if they are found guilty of serious misconduct, or have violated the constitution and/or are physically or mentally incapacitated. The declaration of a state of emergency must be approved by Parliament after 14 days, and Zimbabweans are guaranteed freedom from torture, detention without trial or degrading treatment.
Swaziland that will take over SADC chairmanship after next week is one of the Southern African countries where citizens are not allowed to form political parties and most of opposition leaders have been arrested while others fled to South Africa. At the end of August King Mswati III will host a SADC Summit where he will take over as the regional block chairperson. Recently King Mswati who prefers lavish lifestyle amid severe poverty purchased a second jet, an Airbus jet that reportedly belonged to China Airlines and has the capacity to carry 350 people. SACBC President Archbishop Stephen Brislin of Archdiocese of Capetown said they are aware of the situation in Swaziland and have met with government officials especially the Prime Minister Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini to discuss the political situation in the country. “The Catholic church is the backbone of the Swaziland social cause as he have built schools and hospitals and are involved in charitable works to help the poor and underprivileged,” he said.