Africa’s first woman bishop admits ‘world is watching’
While the Church of England wrings its hands over the appointment of women bishops, Africa’s first woman Anglican bishop is determined to get on with the job without being hung up on the gender debate.
“All leaders are ordained by God,” said 61-year-old Swazi primate Ellinah Wamukoya, skimming over the very topic that has brought her worldwide attention.
“It is not like any other post where you apply. Here God calls you and you respond to that call. If you do respond, your mind should be focused on what God says to the position to which He has called you,” she told AFP.
“I have responded to the call of God.”
But the timing of that call could hardly have been more dramatic, or contentious.
Her enthronement as Anglican bishop of the Diocese of Swaziland last Saturday came in the very week the Anglicans’ mother church, the Church of England, very publicly voted not to allow women bishops.
The outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams described opposition to the move as “wilfully blind.”
Wamukoya’s immediate task will be to oversee 42 reverends of the Church both spiritually and in financial management — no mean feat amid speculation that the Swazi Church is in a financial quagmire.
But Wamukoya is aware that her role has far wider implications. Failure is certain to be leapt upon as evidence of women’s unsuitability for the post.
“I know that the whole world is looking up to me to see if I will deliver,” she said.
She hopes her experience of running a political office as chief executive officer of the Manzini Municipality — Swaziland’s financial hub — will hold her in good stead.
But she must also tread a moral tightrope.
Despite her appointment, the Anglican Church in Africa remains highly conservative. Many Church norms exclude women from decision-making.
Even if the Church of England is not inspired by her appointment, Gender Links Swaziland director Ncane Maziya hopes that women in the small kingdom will be.
Wamukoya’s appointment could provide inspiration to women who need to tap into leadership positions, Maziya said.
On a host of other issues she may face strong orthodoxy.
Tip-toeing out onto that moral tightrope, Wamukoya somewhat diplomatically describes the Church’s stance on same-sex marriage as “discerning.”
While the Swazi Church does not officiate gay marriage ceremonies and same-sex marriage is illegal under Swaziland’s basic laws, Wamukoya maintained that the Church cannot attempt to enforce policy on the issue.
“The state is one thing, but as children of God, apart from the laws of the state, we go by what God says to us,” she said.