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 CNS Story:

SAFRICA-ELECTIONS Feb-23-2009 (430 words) xxxi

South African prelate warns against blind party loyalty, intimidation

By Bronwen Dachs
Catholic News Service

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) -- Reminding South Africans of postelection violence in Zimbabwe and Kenya in 2008, the president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference said the intimidation of those who hold different political views is a threat to democracy in South Africa.

With parliamentary elections scheduled for April 22, South Africa faces threats, including "blind loyalty to a party" and "corruption that delays service delivery and disillusions many people," Archbishop Buti Tlhagale of Johannesburg, conference president, said in a mid-February statement.

He cautioned against "intolerance and intimidation of those who hold different political views" and "doing nothing," which allows "those in authority to do as they please without challenge."

Noting that South Africa faces "enormous challenges," Archbishop Tlhagale called for prayer vigils before the election, widely expected to be the most closely contested since apartheid ended in 1994.

Jacob Zuma, leader of the ruling African National Congress, is the favorite to become president, despite a renewed graft case that has dogged him for years.

But analysts say the Congress of the People, known as COPE, formed by ANC dissidents in December, could garner enough votes to prevent the ruling party from winning a two-thirds majority in Parliament.

COPE named Methodist Bishop Mvume Dandala, general secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches, as its presidential candidate Feb. 20.

In the letter, Archbishop Tlhagale listed poverty, lack of adequate housing, unstable families and high levels of crime and violence among the country's problems and said, "It is up to each one of us to decide which party has the policies and commitment to address them effectively."

He reminded South Africans that "there is nothing wrong with" switching party allegiance and said, "in a true democracy, we should not base our choice on race, language, tribe or cultural group, but on the policies and standpoints of the various parties."

The South African Council of Churches, of which the bishops' conference is a member, said it is "profoundly concerned about political intolerance, intimidation and the potential for violence that will mar our proud and short history of democratic elections."

In a mid-February statement, the council said youth leaders "have a special responsibility to avoid inflammatory rhetoric and actions."

In the violence following Kenya's disputed December 2007 elections, more than 1,200 people were killed and more than 350,000 people fled their homes; many homes were burned and destroyed.

In Zimbabwe, human rights groups said that brutal state-sponsored violence after March 2008 elections won by the opposition left more than 80 dead and 200,000 displaced.


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