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WCC sends pastoral letter related to gender-based violence in South Africa

WCC sends pastoral letter related to gender-based violence in South Africa

Photo: Hymie Sokupha/WCC

16 December 2019

After a World Council of Churches (WCC) Pilgrim Team visited South Africa, the WCC released a pastoral letter to the nation on gender-based violence, femicide and xenophobia.

“The purpose of this Pilgrim Team Visit was to have Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace conversations with political and religious leaders, civil society, concerned citizens and victims and survivors of two critical issues of global importance, namely gender-based violence and femicide and xenophobia in South Africa,” reads the letter. “A Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace is a transformative journey that God invites us to take in anticipation of the final purpose for the world that the triune God brings about.”

The  high-level delegation of the WCC with 16 representatives from all over the world, visited South Africa from 7-12 December. The WCC delegation, led by WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, along with the WCC deputy general secretary Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, includes members of the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, moderated by Rev. Frank Chikane of South Africa.

The visitors walked, worked and prayed together with their hosts. "The pilgrimage includes at least three different dimensions – not in a linear form but rather in a dynamic, interdependent understanding: celebrating the gifts; visiting the wounds; and transforming the injustices,” reads the letter. “This visit by a WCC delegation is truly a momentous occasion, as it was the first time in many years that a high-level delegation of the WCC has come officially on a justice mission to South Africa.”

The Pilgrim Team said that their visit afforded them with opportunities to read the signs of the times. "We also met with people who are working assiduously to address issues related to sexual and gender-based violence, as well as challenges of migration,” the letter reads. “The conversation and reflection partners were from civil society, the government of South Africa, and church agencies and ministries.”

The group listened to the perspectives of civil society and to the stories of the individuals directly affected. "We became aware of the multi-layered nature of xenophobia and racism,” the letter reads. “We expressed shock and pain at some of the narratives encountered during the visit.”

The Pilgrim Team listened to stories of how some foreign nationals face endless and continuous violations of their fundamental rights. “We heard stories about gender-based violence, rape and femicide," reads the letter. “South Africa has the highest rate of women murdered by their partners in the world.”

The letter notes that violence in the domestic sphere is frequently perpetrated by males who are, or who have been, in positions of trust and intimacy and power.  “The historically unequal power relations between men and women usually drive this violence,” reads the letter. “Gender-based violence denies fundamental human rights, especially those of women and children. Everyone has the right to be treated in a dignified way.”

Human dignity is inalienable, the letter points out. "Violence is a global pandemic, which denies the humanity and rights of the vulnerable - economically, socially, politically and spiritually,” continues the text. “There was the sense that humanity has been complicit in denying the human dignity of the vulnerable in different ways, including in our silence.”

Read the full text of the pastoral letter

WCC delegation meets with South African President Ramaphosa