Africa has elected its first female Anglican bishop. On 18 July 2012 an Elective Assembly meeting in Mbabane elected the Rev. Ellinah Wamukoya as fifth Bishop of the Diocese of Swaziland.
Bishop-elect Wamukoya (61) will be the first female Anglican bishop in Africa and the continent’s second serving female bishop of a mainline church – in 2008 the Rt. Rev. Joaquina Nhanala was elected the Methodist bishop of Mozambique.
Educated at the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland, the new bishop has exercised a bi-vocational ministry. She serves as Anglican chaplain at the University of Swaziland and at St Michael’s High School in Manzini. Bishop-elect Wamukoya is also the Town Clerk and CEO of the City Council of the town of Manzini and is a skilled and seasoned financial administrator.
The new bishop enters the stage at a difficult moment in the political and ecclesial life of Swaziland. Her predecessor, the Rt. Rev. Meshack Mabuza has been a sharp critic of King Mswati III, the last absolute monarch in sub-Saharan Africa. King Mswati has ruled the landlocked mountain kingdom since 1986 and has been denounced by church and civil society leaders for mismanagement of the economy. The king also has earned a public image as a profligate ruler unconcerned with his subjects’ poverty.
Last year Bishop Mabuza told the BBC “the answer [to Swaziland’s problems] really lies in regime change in terms of the traditional, feudalistic, archaic form of government,” and “has to be replaced with multi-party democratic rule.”
The Diocese of Swaziland has also been rocked by internal dissension. In 2010 the vicar of St Augustine’s church in Mpaka filed charges against the bishop alleging misconduct. While the allegations were never made public, the Times of Swaziland reported that a “team of investigators” sent by the Archbishop of Cape Town had investigated charges of “mismanagement of moneys” sent by the dicoese’s overseas partners, the Dioceses of Brechin and Iowa.
The financial misconduct charges were only part of the bishop’s worries. On the evening of 21 February 2011, traffic officers from the Lobamba police station stopped Bishop Mabuza while he was driving along the Manzini-Mbabane freeway. The Bishop failed a breathalyzer test and arrested him for driving while under the influence of alcohol.
Bishop Mabuza’s hearing was held in camera the following morning before the Mbabane Magistrate’s Court. While the outcome of the proceedings is not made public, under Swazi law a first drink-driving arrest is most often punished by a fine and an admonishment.
In July 2011 the review committee cleared Bishop Mabuza of misconduct. However, he told the diocesan synod on 9 July that he was standing down as bishop. Last January Archbishop Thabo Makgoba conducted a metropolitan visitation of the diocese and released a pastoral letter stating he had “separate meetings with the Diocesan Council, Diocesan Finance Committee, the clergy of the Diocese and the Diocesan Chapter. I have also met with Bishop Mabuza, the auditors and the external partners of the Diocese of Swaziland.”
“Bishop Mabuza has resigned and retired. I have appointed the Provost as Vicar-General after consultation with Chapter," he said adding that he believed the diocese was “in a healthy state in spite of all the challenges it went through. Bishop Mabuza must be congratulated and complimented for his effective leadership.”
Women clergy have stood for election as bishop in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa before, but Saturday’s election marks the first time a woman has been elected bishop since the ACSA synod voted to ordain women to all orders of ministry in 1992 – at a synod meeting in Swaziland.
Of the 38 Provinces of the Anglican Communion, 7 do not ordain women: Central Africa, Melanesia, Myanmar, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, South East Asia, and Tanzania.
Two provinces ordain women to the diaconate only, Congo and the Southern Cone while 26 provinces and the extra-provincial Church of Ceylon have ordained women to the priesthood: Bangladesh, Brazil, Burundi, Central America, England, Hong Kong, North India, South India, Indian Ocean, Ireland, Japan, Jerusalem & the Middle East, Kenya, Korea, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines, Rwanda, Scotland, the Sudan, Uganda, Wales, West Africa, and the West Indies. Southern Africa becomes the fifth province to elect a women bishop, joining the Episcopal Church, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and has the extra-provincial diocese of Cuba.