A Catholic Church leader has condemned the South Sudanese government for its role in violence in the country’s second largest city Wau over the weekend, delivering an impassioned speech to worshippers on Sunday in which he called government leaders ‘devils’ and ‘criminals’ and belittled the new governor of Wau State as a ‘madman’.
Apostolic Administrator Rocco Taban spoke after Wau descended into violence late last week with a series of incidents that eventually led to serious fighting on Saturday morning between armed opposition and government soldiers. Thousands of people have been displaced and dozens killed amid reports of ethnic targeting of civilians.
Wau is a diverse city inhabited by people of many tribes including Balanda, Dinka, Jur, Fertit and others. Ethnic tensions have risen as the political and security situation worsened dramatically last week.
In a speech at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Juba, the priest directed his fury at the government for its alleged role in the violence and for removing the recently appointed governor, who last week sought to calm the situation but was removed by presidential decree after a dispute with an army commander.
“More than 100,000 people are in the bush being displaced by their own government. This is the country we have chosen. This is the country we have voted for its independence so that our country displaces us. Our own country. We are ruled really by monkeys. We are ruled by monkeys. We have to be very clear: We are ruled by monkeys,” said Rocco.
“And the governor who was protecting people in Wau, who was loved by the people in Wau, General Elias Waya [was] removed by the presidential decree and being replaced by [a] madman,” he added. He was referring to the new governor Andrea Mayar, who was impeached as speaker of the legislative assembly in Wau last year but appointed governor in a late-night decree on Friday just hours before serious fighting erupted on the outskirts of Wau.
Rocco Taban leads one of the Catholic dioceses in South Sudan. He is apostolic administator of Malakal but he hails from Wau. Under the laws of the Catholic Church, apostolic administrators of dioceses have essentially the same authority as that of a bishop, meaning that Rocco Taban is a senior leader in the church administration.
He further criticized the president for saying nothing about the situation in Wau even as thousands were chased from their homes and many were killed. “Do we love our country? Do we love this nation? And so far the President of the Republic did not say even a word. In Australia three people were killed three days ago. The Prime Minister came out three times a day to make a statement. Because of three Australians.”
“They are eating and drinking and sleeping. Devils! These are devils! We are ruled by devils. And we are very sorry for them,” he said.
The priest concluded, “We don’t want to call fire on them, because we will go against Christ. But they have to understand that they are devils. And they are devils. And they are ruling us with evil powers. They are criminals. Praised be Jesus Christ.”
Sources said that dozens of bodies have been found since this weekend in the open in the city of Wau, which is controlled by the government. One source said that the civilian casualties were the result of cross-fire, while others said they were deliberately targeted on an ethnic basis.
This is not the first time for Rocco Taban to speak out against violence in South Sudan. In a homily in late 2014, during the first year of the civil war, he appeared to suggest to South Sudanese Christians that they should disobey the two war leaders Riek Machar and Salva Kiir, telling them not to act as ‘cattle’, and he slammed politicians for provoking violence and inciting ‘uneducated’ security personnel.
“Who here is a cow of Salva? Or a cow of Riek? I think that we as Christians in the Catholic Church we are people who have dignity because we are creatures made in the image of God and we do not accept imperialism and provocation and insult and insecurity and inequality in the society,” said the priest in November 2014.