Voting a Duty, South African Prelate Affirms

Urges Christians to Get Informed About Candidates

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, JAN. 9, 2009 ( Getting informed about the candidates and voting freely are Christian responsibilities and serious obligations, says the president of the South African episcopal conference.

Archbishop Buti Tlhagale of Johannesburg affirmed this in a pastoral letter to prepare for the nation’s upcoming elections, which must be held by April, though no date has been set.

In the November letter, “South Africa: A Living Democracy,” the archbishop affirmed that for “democracy to live, we all need to participate.”

“For Christian voters,” he said, “voting expresses our love and concern for our country and for the common good of all who live in South Africa. Each vote will affect the lives of every individual and group in the country.”

This year’s vote will be the fourth multiracial election since the 1994 end of apartheid. The African National Congress, the party of Nelson Mandela, has dominated since ’94. However, that party has been the focus of various political tensions over recent months, including the sacking of former President Thabo Mbeki.

Educated decision

Archbishop Tlhagale insisted that responsible voting means getting informed.

“You must ask the question of yourself and of political parties if the policies and practices of a particular party are or will be good for the whole country,” he wrote.

And on a continent plagued by recent contested elections that erupted in violence, the prelate also cautioned against “politically motivated hate speech, intimidation, violence and disruption,” saying these “kill democracy.”

“For a democracy to live, we must tolerate the different views of others,” he said. “A wide range of ideas and policies help us to see what might be best for our country and people. This will help us choose what is best for the common good of all. Not to respect the views of others and their right to support the party of their choice is un-Christian and undemocratic. Violence or the threat of violence toward those who differ from us or to parties other than the one you support is un-Christian and undemocratic.”

The archbishop urged voters to consider candidates, not voting for a party “just because you voted for it before or because your father or grandmother votes for it.”

Finally, Archbishop Tlhagale urged South Africans to pray for peace and guidance as the election nears.

“Remember how the St. Francis Prayer for Peace, prayed every day by individuals in many communities, supported our struggle for democracy,” he said. “Praying this prayer would be a powerful reminder of our responsibility to be instruments of peace. Pray from now until the election that all people who will vote will allow the Holy Spirit to guide their choice.”

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