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COVID-19 claims the lives of Catholic and Anglican leaders in southern Africa

From Zambia to Swaziland to South Africa, Catholics and Anglicans lost senior clerics to the coronavirus in the month of January 2021.

An aircraft carrying South Africa's first COVID-19 vaccine doses arrives at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg Feb. 1, 2021. (CNS photo/Elmond Jiyane, GCIS handout via Reuters)

On January 4th, Bishop Moses Hamungole of the Catholic Diocese of Monze in Zambia announced via a Facebook post that he had tested positive for COVID-19 at the Monze mission hospital in his diocese. He added that he had since been transferred to the Levy Mwanawasa hospital in the capital, Lusaka. He sought to reassure everyone:

I am well taken care of here and the is no reason to worry about. I’m calm and confident to pull through this Covid19 attack. I wish to thank you for your prayers. At the same time, I want you to take Covid19 pandemic real and to urge you to follow all health regulations. Let us remain United in prayer!

On January 13th, the Diocese of Monze announced that Bishop Hamungole had died late that afternoon. At the time of his demise, Bishop Hamungole was also serving as the Chairperson of the Commission for Social Communications, of the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB). In February of 2020, I had the opportunity of meeting Bishop Hamungole in Lusaka, at a meeting convened by the secretariat of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA), where he also served as Chairman of the Social Communications department. A renowned communicator, Bishop Hamungole served at the Vatican Radio in Rome, as head of the English Africa and Kiswahili service, before being appointed bishop on February 10, 2014.

In South Africa, the Archbishop of Durban Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, announced the death of his Coadjutor, Archbishop Abel Gabuza, on January 17. Archbishop Gabuza, who as Coadjutor would have succeeded Cardinal Napier as Archbishop of Durban, had been in Durban just short of two years. Cardinal Napier described him as “as a gentle, caring and warm-hearted pastor”, adding that “through his gentleness, caring and warmth he made an immediate impact on everyone who was privileged to make his acquaintance. That’s an added reason why his passing is such a tremendous loss to us and to the entire Church in Southern Africa.” Archbishop Gabuza who died at 65, had served as chair of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) for two terms.

Just a day before Archbishop Gabuza’s funeral, Monsignor Paul Nadal, the most senior diocesan priest in the Archdiocese, died January 21st, in what Cardinal Napier, in a letter, described as “a short battle with Covid-19”. Ordained in December of 1959, Monsignor Nadal had celebrated 60 years of priesthood in 2019; during those six decades he served in various roles in the Archdiocese, including eleven years as Vicar General.

The Anglican Church in Southern Africa is also in mourning, following the death of Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya, of the Diocese of Swaziland (Eswatini), at the age of 69. Primate of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, announced Wamukoya’s death, which occurred on January 19th, just days after she was out on oxygen therapy after contracting the coronavirus. Bishop Wamukoya was elected Bishop of Swaziland in 2012, to become the first female bishop in the Anglican Church in Africa. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), named her, in 2016, as one of the 100 most influential and inspirational women in the world. Catholic Bishop José Luis Ponce de León IMC, Bishop of Manzini, described news of the death of Wamukoya as “another Emmaus moment”. “Like the two disciples walking to Emmaus telling the Risen Jesus: “Our own hope had been that…” (Luke 24: 21), we too had hoped she would get better”, said Bishop José Luis on his blog.

Days later, Bishop José Luis Ponce de León announced the death of a young missionary priest, Fr. Alwyn Zothansanga of the Missionaries of St Francis de Sales who was based at St Ignatius of Loyola Parish at Siphofaneni, in the Diocese of Manzini. Ordained in January 2016, Fr. Alwyn, originally from India, was on his first missionary appointment, arriving in Eswatini in 2018. Bishop José Luis described the sense of vulnerability that Fr. Alwyn’s passing had brought; “We also felt more vulnerable because the one called home was one of the youngest among us: in age, in ordination, in the time of his missionary service, in the time he had spent among us…”

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About Allen Ottaro 32 Articles
Allen Ottaro lives in Nairobi, Kenya, where he is a parishioner at St. Paul’s Catholic University Chapel in the Archdiocese of Nairobi. He is a co-founder of the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa, and is the former national coordinator of MAGIS Kenya.


  1. Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine.
    Et lux perpetua luceat eis.
    Fidelium animae, per misericordiam Dei, requiescant in pace. Amen.

  2. The is a tragedy that could be avoided if only we all practice the calling of our Catholic faith and its important teachings of compassion and love of our neighbours especially those in need. The 10 richest countries in the world whose selfishness and protectionism is likely to lead to more of these tragedies, is gathering momentum. The 10 richest countries are using their political power and wealth to control how the poorest countries are to respond to this Coronavirus pandemic. We see the EU and the UK fighting about the quantity of COVID -19 vaccines and who has purchased them first. The UK is actually boasting about thier achievement of being the first country in the world to procure all the vaccines currently in production and to lead in the mass vaccination of its population. Their needs have to be met first, as usual and this act of selfishness is to be admired and is seen as an achievement. While at the same time these countries and their pharmaceutical companies refuse patents to the poorest countries to develop their own medication to treat COVID-19 disease. These richest countries including the USA account for 60% of GDP. We have seen how keen they respond to the needs of their won eg Germany sent assistance to Portugal. I appeal for compassion among the political leaders of these countries to allow patents to the poorest countries and to assist them with access to medication to control the viral load as is the case with HIV. This will also help Catholics like me who have rejected the vaccines because of their corporation with aborted foetus. What has astonished me the most is the so called Prolife Catholics who have been the first in the queue for COVID-19 vaccines without any shame on the contradictions posed by their actions.i haven’t seen all these Prolife campaigns to save lives in the pandemic that has killed thousands. They argue on a selective and narrow definition of prolife which is another tragedy. I am not advocating for the Heroes of Faith like Maximilian Kolbe but I am appealing to the conscience of the faithful to start campaigning for the Inequalities we are all witnesses to in terms of access to COVID-19 healthcare for the poorest countries. The richest countries are struggling in their faith and their abandonment of Christian values is evidenced in their response to the Coranavirus pandemic. Power and nationalism has sparked the rejection or reduction of aid to the Church in Need. God proved his love for us (Romans 5:18) . The joy of giving to the poorest either financially or spiritually is a Christian duty( eg Mother Theresa). If we all stand firm in prayer and fasting this Easter for Mercy and love, the Way to the Cross.

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