Abel Gabuza was born in Alexandra on 23 March 1955. He was one of six children. After his father died when he was very young, his mother sent him to boarding school to provide a safer environment than the local schools. He began his studies at St. Paul Minor Seminary in his formative years, and later at St. Peter Major Seminary, both in Hammanskraal. He interrupted his studies after the first year to spend a year as a factory worker, and later he attended the National Major Seminary of St. John Vianney. He was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Pretoria on 15 December 1984.
He worked in parish ministries from 1985 to 1987, then spent the 1987–1988 academic year earning a master’s degree in theology at the Jesuit School of Theology, University of Berkeley, California. He returned to teach at the St. Paul Preparatory Seminary in Hammanskraal and served as Rector of that seminary from 1991 to 1994. In 1995 he once again took up parish ministry. In 1999 he became Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Pretoria and in 2009 its Apostolic Administrator.
Pope Benedict XVI appointed him Bishop of Kimberley on 23 December 2010. Thereafter, he became President of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference and advocated for safeguarding workers’ pension funds from government interference, and the protection of miners’ health. He also called for better child labor conditions and for efforts to be made to reduce arms trafficking.
On 9 December 2018, Pope Francis named him Archbishop Coadjutor of Durban to succeed Cardinal Wilfrid Napier.
At the February 2019 Vatican summit on sexual abuse, Gabuza disagreed with those who minimized the significance of the issue in Africa. He said the sexual abuse of minors by family members was still too much a “secret”. As for the clergy, he said; “The abuse of minors can’t be easily dismissed as a ‘Western thing'”. In April 2020, he supported government restrictions on public assemblies, including church services, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and called on priests to find creative responses. He said: “The Church of Christ started small in homes, not in big structures that we have today. In a way, we are going back to our roots because each family is a domestic Church. When we come together on Sundays or any other day we gather as various domestic churches”
He was also responsible for promoting alliances to combat HIV/AIDS along with gender-based violence through a program that works in local taverns.
He died from COVID-19 on 17 January 2021 at the age of 65 in Durban’s Hillcrest Hospital.
By: Lorraine Richards