Bishops of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa say they are deeply disturbed by news of growing human rights abuses in Swaziland, a kingdom sandwiched between South Africa and Mozambique - writes Munyaradzi Makoni.
The bishops, meeting in Benoni near Johannesburg recently for their twice-yearly synod, challenged their church to become more involved in the quest for democracy in Swaziland.
Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town, the leader of the church, said that he could not remain silent on the issue of democracy in Swaziland, "where power and wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few, and political debate is hardly permitted".
A state of emergency has existed in Swaziland for the past 37 years. Freedom of expression is severely limited, opposition political parties are banned, and reports of police arresting and beating up critics are frequent.
Action for Southern Africa, a not-for-profit organisation, alleges that there is now less political freedom in Swaziland than in another neighbour of South Africa - Zimbabwe - where Robert Mugabe has been president for 30 years.
The Anglican synod also considered matters affecting the life of the church, and discussed a draft document entitled, "Pastoral Guidelines in Response to Civil Unions," written in response to pastoral situations arising within parishes as a consequence of South Africa's 2006 civil union legislation, which made same-sex marriage legal.
"As bishops, all are acutely aware of the need to act pastorally and prudently on this sensitive matter, while at the same time being committed to remaining within the accepted teachings of our church on marriage and the ongoing dialogue within the Anglican Communion," said the bishops.
The synod referred the draft guidelines to its dioceses for comment, and will discuss them again at its February 2011 meeting.
The Anglican Church in Southern Africa comprises dioceses in Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, and the islands of St Helena and Tristan da Cunha.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]