THE ARREST last week of the secretary-general of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference has been attacked in strongly-worded statements by leaders of the church in South Africa and England.
Fr Smangaliso Mkhatshwa, a prominent black anti-apartheid campaigner, was arrested by South African police at Soshnguve township, near Pretoria, on a charge of possession of a firearm without a licence.
Archbishop Denis Hurley of Durban, president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference condemned Fr Mkhatshwa's arrest, saying that the Church "deplored" the harrassment of priests and "others working with people for justice". Fr Mkhatshwa was a signatory last year to the Kairos document, issued by leading clerics, opposing apartheid.
The Catholic Bishops' Conference also objected to the coverage which Fr Mkhatshwa's arrest received by South Africa's Broadcasting Corporation: the government-controlled media attempted to connect the priest's arrest with the storage of firearms and ammunition for armed violence.
Last week's arrest also spurred Cardinal Basil Hume to write a letter of protest to South Africa's ambassador in London, Dr Dennis Warrell, on Saturday. want to express my dismay and profound concern" wrote the Cardinal. He went on to predict that a strong "reaction in Catholic circles and elsewhere" will follow news of the arrest.
Fr Mkhatshwa's imprisonment took place during a week of major raids by South African forces into Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The attack, which left three people dead and several injured, threatened hopes for the success of the Commonwealth peace mission to Southern Africa, and incurred a barrage of international criticisms and demands for economic sanctions aeainst South Africa.
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