SACC Statement on SA Coronavirus Lockdown

The SACC is an instrument and servant of its members.

March 26, 2020
Media Release
Issued by the office of the SACC General Secretary, Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana.

The South African Council of Churches (SACC) congratulates President Cyril Ramaphosa and his various Cabinet Ministers, for showing commendable leadership during this unprecedented time, when the coronavirus pandemic is causing havoc globally and taking lives. We are conscious of the inconveniences this will cause to worship life. But, in recognition that the Coronavirus (COVID-19) spreads mostly through human contact, the churches should not want their worshipping congregations to become channels of mass infection, as it happened in South Korea.
As we begin the 21-day national lockdown tonight, there are many with anxieties about the next few weeks, as well as possible depression, and pressures in family and home. This may exacerbate domestic tensions in families, with an increase of domestic violence and other unfortunate extremities. Elderly people and some people with disabilities, who regularly need someone to come from outside to assist them with certain essential support, will be hard pressed to cope. The churches are conscious of these realities, and call on all South Africans to heed the call to recognise a moment of prayer tonight between 18:00 and 18:30.
Beyond today’s prayer, the SACC appeals to South Africans to commit to prayer each week day at noontime. We shall make further announcements concerning special prayers over the holy week of Good Friday and Easter. We urge all SACC member churches, the greater religious and faith communities, and the society at large to abide by the laws and regulations that have been instituted. Do so for your own good, as well as for the greater good, in order to help us to curb the spread and stop the infection. How we behave during these 21 days will determine whether we can end the virus in South Africa, without further infections. It is now upon us to diligently observe the proclaimed 21 days’ lockdown period, as our religious duty to protect and hopefully save lives. We follow Jesus Christ, the Lord of life!
Meeting with President and Cabinet Ministers
Today, 26 March 2020, the SACC, along with leaders of the Muslim faith, Imaam Ebrahim Bham and Mr Suliman; and the Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein of the Jewish Community, met with President Ramaphosa and some cabinet ministers – Minister Jackson Mthembu, Minister Angie Motshekga, Minister Ronald Lamola, and Minister Lindiwe Zulu –  to discuss, just ahead of the lockdown, a number of issues that the religious leaders wished to raise with Government. In particular, the SACC wished to share with Government its proposed Coronavirus Lockdown Pastoral Plan.
Both the President and Ministers agreed that in the context of the COVID-19 crises, religious leaders are essential at this time to help provide pastoral care to communities, especially the vulnerable; the dying and bereaved; the elderly and psychologically distressed; and that Government will look at ways in which this could be facilitated without contravening the necessarily stringent laws and regulations against the movement of people. For indeed we need to all adopt a LOCK DOWN mentality, as would be if we were at war with the country under physical attack and bombs spraying around. That calls for a mind-set of STAY-AT-HOME!
In this difficult time the SACC joins other South African organisations and faith communities in committing to serve and be a source of comfort for God’s people, a cardinal part of the vocation of the Church. In that spirit, the SACC is establishing a Lockdown Pastoral Plan, and it is based on the pillars of communication, care, relief, and support and advocacy.
Setting Up of Digital Platform for Communication
We are setting up some technological platforms that will enable digital communication and information sharing, including a WhatsApp service to the local congregations of churches. This will be a two-way communication platform – top down and bottom up – that all communities can access through their groups of congregations, or any other local community group that can join the platform from anywhere in South Africa. An SACC central joint operation centre (JOC) has been set up, which will be seized with distributing credible information and religious messaging to communities, as well as receiving information on the ground, for community needs and mapping purposes. This will be done through the leaders of local congregations and the local JOCs at community level. The SACC JOC will be linked up to the National Government JOC on COVID-19, so that we can collaborate on the sharing of essential information in order to help people.
The SACC appreciates the disruption that the lockdown measures cause to some of the sacred responsibilities that the religious community exercises in its life, such as funerals and pastoral care to the vulnerable. This crisis demands of all us to act with maximum restraint. To this end the SACC has agreed to work closely with government so as to respond appropriately where the need arises for such work to be done, without risking the lives of the people.
Call to Action
South Africa, this is the time when we are being called upon to be a responsible and considerate citizenship. The religious community must help to lead the community at this time, and be creative, as they already have, in ministering to the community within legal bounds. Let us ALL as society, exercise obedience, kindness and commitment to combating COVID-19, with all the challenges and personal tests it will take us through.
We appeal to society to comply with all laws of the lockdown under these difficult times, to ensure not just your own, but everyone’s safety so that we can overcome this pandemic.
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