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Priest’s Hunger Strike Prompts S. Africa Rape Case

The Rev. June Major ended a six-day hunger strike outside the gates of the official residence of the Archbishop of Cape Town on July 6, after meeting with Archbishop Thabo Magkoba. Later the same day, the Anglican Church in Southern Africa announced that it would launch a disciplinary process to address allegations of rape she has raised against a fellow priest, and would ask state prosecutors, who declined to press charges when the accusations were first made, to re-open the case.

Major, 51, alleges that she was raped by a fellow student in 2002 at the College of the Transfiguration in Grahamstown, South Africa, when they were both studying for the ministry. She claims that the South African church has failed to take her claims seriously, and that she lost her church position and became homeless after reporting her attacker to church authorities.

On July 2, she told the African News Agency that she would not leave until she had spoken with the archbishop face to face. She said, “My rapist is still preaching. I am not his only victim, there have been more. I want the archbishop to acknowledge and do something about this. He cannot address these issues in his sermons but cover it up in the church.”

Major reported her attack to police in January 2016 and says that the docket containing her testimony was lost three times. She also alleges that her then-bishop, Garth Counsell of Table Bay, a suffragan in Cape Town Diocese, told her to “keep quiet for the sake of the church’s reputation,” and then refused to give her a good reference for a post in Australia.

She launched a similar hunger strike outside Archbishop Magkoba’s residence in August 2016, ending it after the archbishop agreed to meet with her and Bishop Counsell to review her allegations. After the meeting, which Major deemed a failure, she revealed the name of her alleged attacker at a press conference in Cape Town. The Anglican Church in Southern Africa never opened an independent disciplinary process to investigate the matter.

The church’s July 6 statement promises to begin an official inquiry soon. “The church has in recent years updated its laws and procedures to handle cases of abuse in the church more effectively,” it said. “Ms. Major has been asked to submit details of her allegation in writing so that the process can begin.”

The statement also says that when he met with her, Archbishop Magkoba assured Rev. Major that “the Church is committed to follow a fair, just and transparent process in which she will have the opportunity to state her case, and the priest she has accused will have a chance to state his.” It concludes, “the church is also committed to justice in society, which is a faith response and a direct reflection of its divine calling. It is justice that must be sought, and nobody must be allowed to suffer the consequences of injustice. Viciousness of one person towards another within society and least of all in the body of Christ, will not and cannot be tolerated. The church is compelled to respond, and it is committed to do so in this matter.”

South Africa has the highest percentage of rapes per capita in the world, according to the World Population Review, with 66,196 rapes reported in a nation with an estimated 2020 population of just over 59 million.  The country’s rate of 132.40 rapes per 100,000 citizens is almost five times the US rate of 27.3 rapes per 100,000 people. In both countries, rape is presumed to be drastically under-reported.

Archbishop Magkoba has a been a prominent spokesperson against gender-based violence, and in a July 5 pastoral letter spoke favorably of the South African government’s plan to create a “National Council for Gender-Based Violence and Femicide which would have as its objective ‘amplifying the national response to GBV’ by building ‘a strengthened, survivor-focused, resourced and coordinated strategic response’” to the problem. In 2013, together with Bishop Counsell, Archbishop Magkoba signed the “white ribbon pledge,” promising to “never commit, condone, or remain silent about violence against women.”

Rev. Major told African News Network that she was grateful that her demands had been met by Archbishop Magkoba, but she was concerned that a timeline for beginning the church disciplinary process had not yet been set. “That is why I have given a timeline to the church,” Major said. “On August 8, a day before Women’s Day, this matter has to be concluded, otherwise on August 9, myself and others will be back with radical picketing.”


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