Catholic leaders in South Africa applauded news of President Jacob Zuma’s resignation, stressing the need to root out corruption at all levels of government.

A Feb. 14 statement from the South African Catholic Bishops’ Conference welcomed news of the resignation, calling it “long overdue.”

“While for some it may be a painful event, we call on all to accept his decision as part of our democratic process,” said the statement, signed by Archbishop Stephen Brislin, president of the bishops’ conference.

Following pressure from his party, Zuma announced his resignation Feb. 14. Zuma, age 75, had been president since 2009, and his term of office was not due to end until 2019. His presidency had been marked by numerous corruption allegations.

“The fact that Mr. Zuma has been allowed to hold on to the highest position in the land despite longstanding and overwhelming evidence of his unfitness for office, has done immense harm to our country’s international reputation, to its economy and, especially, to its poorest and most vulnerable citizens,” Brislin said.

He noted the general perception that Zuma’s presidency had been marked by corruption and fostered a decline in morality in public life, calling on the government to examine the ways in which this was allowed to happen, and how it can be prevented in the future.

“In this centenary year of Nelson Mandela’s birth, we hope and pray for a return to the ideals of servant leadership with which South Africa was blessed in the first years of its democracy,” he said.

Archbishop Brislin pledged prayerful support of the incoming administration and prayed that during the season of Lent, “just as we make our spiritual journey towards the renewal and hope of Easter, our country will begin its own political journey to a future of renewed hope and commitment to the ideals of our Constitution.”
rnMike Pothier, program manager for the bishops’ conference Parliamentary Liaison Office, released a Feb. 15 analysis offering lessons for the people of South African to reflect upon.

“It should be remembered that Mr. Zuma was put in power by a consortium of disaffected constituencies within the [African National Congress] precisely because they wanted a weak, malleable, pliant leader to replace the supposedly aloof and authoritarian Thabo Mbeki,” he said.

“Mr. Zuma’s already notorious record of corruption, dishonesty, cronyism, philandery and self-advancement did not bother them at all as they foisted him on us, and thereby set in motion the disastrous decade that has sullied our reputation and set us back economically, institutionally and politically.”

He also noted the accomplishment of the resignation taking place “in an orderly, procedural and peaceful manner,” in contrast to situations in Venezuela, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and other countries where an embattled leader’s refusal to step down as led to violence.

Finally, he reflected, “the governmental rot did not start with Mr. Zuma’s ascent to the presidency, and it will not end with his exit.”

He called for a deeper examination of government corruption and an effort “to rebuild an ethos of good governance; to restore trust in the institutions of democracy; to resurrect hope for a better life for all; and to regain the straight and narrow way of constitutionalism, the rule of law, and a politics of service.”