Murder of priest highlights rising violence in South Africa

YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – In an incident that highlights the grim reality of South Africa’s deteriorating security crises, another priest has fallen victim to violence.

Father Paul Tatu Mothobi, former Media and Communications Officer of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC), was found dead on April 27.

According to Father Jeremia Thami Mkhwanazi – the Provincial Secretary of the Congregation of the Sacred Stigmata (CSS/ Stigmatines) to which Mothobi belonged – his body was found in his car with bullet wounds along the road that runs from Cape Town through Bloemfontein, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Polokwane to Beit Bridge, a border town with Zimbabwe.

The priest, who comes from Lesotho’s Catholic Archdiocese of Maseru, was studying for his Doctorate in Communication at the University of Johannesburg when he met his death.

“I worked closely with Father Tatu when he served the Church as the communication officer for SACBC,” said Father Stan Muyebe, Director at the Justice and Peace Commission for Catholic Bishops Conference of Southern Africa.

“The two agencies, the communications office and SACBC Justice and Peace Commission, worked closely together. “I remember him as a jovial and humble person, deeply committed to Christ and the mission of the Church, interested in continued learning and studies, and always seeking ways through which multimedia can be brought to the service of evangelization in Southern Africa,” he told Crux.

Johan Viljoen, the Director of the Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI) of the Southern Africa Bishops’ Conference, said he was “deeply shocked by the killing of Father Paul.”

“I worked with him for three years while he was SACBC communication officer and I was DHPI director. He was a gentle, kind soul with a strong love for humanity. I am still trying to process this news,” he said.

“Nobody is safe in South Africa and the government is doing nothing to improve the situation. They have lost touch with the people they claim to represent, thinking only of how to enrich themselves. The police are not the solution. They are part of the problem. Ask any foreigner – they will tell you how they are assaulted and robbed by police almost daily,” Viljoen told Crux.

Catholic Bishops of Southern Africa have in a collective statement issued April 29 expressed shock at the killing of the priest and offered condolences to his family.

“Father Tatu worked for several years as the SACBC media and communications officer with dedication; we are saddened by his tragic death. “We extend our condolences to the Stigmatine, to whom he belonged and his family,” the bishops said in their April 29 statement signed by the President of the Bishops’ Conference of Southern Africa, Bishop Sithembele Sipuka.

The SACBC bishops come from South Africa, Botswana and Swaziland. They said that Tatu’s killing was not an isolated incident, but rather “a distressing example of the deteriorating state of security and morality in South Africa.”

On March 13, a priest from Zambia, Father William Banda of the St. Patrick’s Society for Foreign Missions (Kiltegan Fathers), was shot dead as he prepared to celebrate Holy Mass at Tzaneen Cathedral.

A well-dressed man reportedly walked into the sacristy and shot the priest at the back of his head.

A day earlier, three Egyptian Coptic monks – Father Takla Moussa, Father Minah ava Marcus and Father Youstos ava Marcus – were “brutally murdered” inside a monastery in South Africa, according to a statement by the South African Archdiocese of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

“The murder of these priests occurs amid growing concerns about the increasing disregard for the value of life, where people are wanted only killed.” the SACBC bishops said in their April 29 statement.

Mothobi was born in 1979 in Teyateyaneng, a town in Lesotho’s district of Berea. He joined the Stigmatines in 1998 and pursued his studies at St. Francis House of Studies in Pretoria from 1999 to 2000. Later, he moved to Botswana for his novice.

Ordained priest in 2008, the Stigmatines commissioned him to Tanzania as a missionary. While in the East African nation, he pursued media and communication studies at Mwanza-based St. Augustine University of Tanzania (SAUT).

“On behalf of the Bishops, I appeal to all people responsible for these murders to refrain from thinking that they can do what they like with people’s lives. Life belongs to God, and no one has a right to take it as one pleases,” Sipuka said in the April 29 statement.

The SACBC bishops decried the silence of the South African authorities, and noted that there was “a growing impression among South Africans that criminals are freely murdering the citizens with no fear of consequences.”

“A deliberate termination of the life of one person affects not only the person killed but a whole network of relationships of that person,” the statement said.

They called on regional governments to put in place “immediate and effective measures to ensure the security of law-abiding citizens who work hard to support their families and for our Catholic priests who spend their lives serving the people of this country.”

Noting that the murder of citizens had become “a pandemic,” the bishops pledged that the Church was ready to collaborate with the state in stemming the tide of murders in South Africa.

 
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