On the Friday, 20th January, the 4th day of the SACBC Plenary Session, it was a turn for the Department for the Formation, Life and Ministry of the Clergy to present reports. Reports were heard from St. Francis Xavier Orientation Seminary in Cape Town and St. John Vianney Seminary in Pretoria. The reports from the seminaries were mainly about what transpired the previous year and what took forward to in the coming year, especially in terms of the intake of students. Finances and staff movements also formed part of the reporting. The Rector of St. Francis Xavier is Fr. Thomas Plastow, S.J. and the Rector for St. John Vianney Seminary is the newly appointed rector Fr. Ncedo Siwundla.
Again from the same department was a report by the Southern African Council of Priests that presented its constitution to the gathered bishops for endorsement. The report revealed a possible three-day SACOP Conference in the 2024. In the constitution yet to be endorsed by the bishops SACOP describes itself as a representative body of the priests of Southern Africa, composed of the various ecclesiastical territories served by the SACBC. SACOP says the purpose of the Council shall be to promote, in hierarchical communion, an efficacious sharing of responsibility in the mission of the Church.
In the second part of the morning session the Department for Catholic Social Action made a presentation on Land Expropriation Bill, and Lenten reflections. The department spoke to the bishop on the land expropriation bill particularly regarding the implications for church property. They presented the purpose of the bill and its constitutional mandate, also circumstances under which land may be expropriated without compensation. They then concluded with the implication of the bill for the church.
In their introductory message for Lenten reflections the department said in the previous years they have statements challenging political leaders to address the political and economic challenges in South Africa, Botswana and Eswatini. The department said they have not given up hope on the possibilities of change in the three respective countries because the Holy Spirit is building something new in people’s lives, families and countries. “While it is important for the Church to continue challenging our political leaders to prioritize the common good and the concerns of the poor over their narrow political interests, we consider it important to remind ourselves that each one of us has a responsibility to work for the common good.”
In the afternoon session the same department, through the Justice and Peace Commission, reported on progress in their effort to seek compensation for former employees and victims of multinational companies. The commission affirmed that some multinational companies leave a legacy of damage especially to the environment without any kind of consequences to them. One of the challenges identified by the commission is that some of these companies are more powerful than governments. The Justice and Peace Commission said therefore as a result of the power the companies have there is a problem of power imbalance between big corporations and the poor.
It was also noted that some big companies are captured by government officials because one sometimes discovers that when you try to fight the corporations you find yourself fighting politicians. The commission said although this undertaking might seem to some as a technical legal process they take it as a ministry. They pointed out that as part of what they do they pray with the people they are trying to help in their different difficult situations, especially widows and those who are dying. The Justice and Peace Commission also gave an update on the latest developments regarding the situation on Jagersfontein, a small town in the Free State Province where a mine dam collapse and the flood poured across the landscape, destroying homes, inundating rivers and grazing land, and injuring dozens. According to news reports, the flood destroyed more than 160 homes, killed at least one person and hundreds of animals, and damaged more than 26 square kilometers of grazing land.
The last open session of the afternoon saw a presentation by Rev Sy Mamabolo and Mr Mosotho Moepya, the Chief Electoral Officer and the Chairperson of the Electoral Commission of South Africa respectively, on the campaign for electoral reform. The focus was on the proposed Electoral Amendment Bill currently parliament for finalization on how it will impact on the work of the electoral commission, especially how viable it would be for the country’s electoral logistical system to be ready for elections. A landmark Constitutional Court ruling two years ago determined that independent candidates could participate in provincial and national elections. The court gave Parliament two years to effect the necessary changes making people hopeful that in 2024 elections the new Electoral Act will be in force.
The two officials from the electoral commission said within four months of the passing of the bill the Minister must establish the Electoral Reform Consultation Panel to independently investigate, consult on and make recommendation in respect of potential reforms of the electoral system. The two officials reminded that it is not the duty of the commission to make laws about elections but their duty is to enforce those laws whose making is the responsibility of another entity. The electoral commission officials said planning and delivering credible elections takes a long time and the closer one gets to 2024 before the bill is finalized the more likely that the 2024 elections will not be contested under the new electoral act even if it is passed.
The plenary session on Saturday 21st January will hear reports from the department of Department Formation, Life, and Apostolate of the Laity and the Department of Finance before talking about the regional synodal process in the afternoon.