Zimbabwe: “In the Name of Jesus…Stop the Violence”

The Catholic Bishops of Zimbabwe have written a pastoral letter on the current crisis in their country. In the letter, they call on the government to end the violence and to be fair, just and compassionate in governing their people. Weeks of escalating political turmoil have seen political opposition leaders arrested, beaten and shamefully paraded before the world. The Bishops describe the crisis as more than moral and spiritual. It is, they say, a crisis of governance and leadership. AFJN joins the Bishops in renouncing violence to preserve the status quo or promote change. We join the people of Zimbabwe in prayer for peace and, with the Bishops, invite all who wish to join the day of fasting on April 14. The text of the letter can be found below. The Catholic Task Force on Africa has also written a letter of support to Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo, an outspoken and constant defender of justice in Zimbabwe.

 

Pastoral Letter by the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference on the Current Crisis of Our Country

Holy Thursday, 5 April 2007

As your Shepherds we have reflected on our national situation and, in
the light of the Word of God and Christian Social Teaching, have
discerned what we now share with you, in the hope of offering guidance,
light and hope in these difficult times.

The Crisis

The people of Zimbabwe are suffering. More and more people are
getting angry, even from among those who had seemed to be doing
reasonably well under the circumstances. The reasons for the anger are
many, among them, bad governance and corruption. A tiny minority of the
people have become very rich overnight, while the majority are
languishing in poverty, creating a huge gap between the rich and the
poor. Our Country is in deep crisis. A crisis is an unstable situation
of extreme danger and difficulty. Yet, it can also be turned into a
moment of grace and of a new beginning, if those responsible for
causing the crisis repent, heed the cry of the people and foster a
change of heart and mind especially during the imminent Easter Season,
so our Nation can rise to new life with the Risen Lord.

In Zimbabwe today, there are Christians on all sides of the
conflict; and there are many Christians sitting on the fence. Active
members of our Parish and Pastoral Councils are prominent officials at
all levels of the ruling party. Equally distinguished and committed
office-bearers of the opposition parties actively support church
activities in every parish and diocese. They all profess their loyalty
to the same Church. They are all baptised, sit and pray and sing
together in the same church, take part in the same celebration of the
Eucharist and partake of the same Body and Blood of Christ. While the
next day, outside the church, a few steps away, Christian State Agents,
policemen and soldiers assault and beat peaceful, unarmed
demonstrators and torture detainees. This is the unacceptable reality
on the ground, which shows much disrespect for human life and falls far
below the dignity of both the perpetrator and the victim.

In our prayer and reflection during this Lent, we have tried to
understand the reasons why this is so. We have concluded that the
crisis of our Country is, in essence, a crisis of governance and a
crisis of leadership apart from being a spiritual and moral crisis.

A Crisis of Governance

The national health system has all but disintegrated as a result of
prolonged industrial action by medical professionals, lack of drugs,
essential equipment in disrepair and several other factors.

In the educational sector, high tuition fees and levies, the lack of
teaching and learning resources, and the absence of teachers have
brought activities in many public schools and institutions of higher
education to a standstill. The number of students forced to terminate
their education is increasing every month. At the same time, Government
interference with the provision of education by private schools has
created unnecessary tension and conflict.

Public services in Zimbabwe’s towns and cities have crumbled. Roads,
street lighting, water and sewer reticulation are in a state of severe
disrepair to the point of constituting an acute threat to public health
and safety, while the collection of garbage has come to a complete
standstill in many places. Unabated political interference with the
work of democratically elected Councils is one of the chief causes of
this breakdown.

The erosion of the public transport system has negatively affected
every aspect of our Country’s economy and social life. Horrific
accidents claim the lives of dozens of citizens each month.

Almost two years after the Operation Murambatsvina, thousands of
victims are still without a home. That inexcusable injustice has not
been forgotten.

Following a radical land reform programme seven years ago, many
people are today going to bed hungry and wake up to a day without work.
Hundreds of companies were forced to close. Over 80 per cent of the
people of Zimbabwe are without employment. Scores risk their lives week
after week in search of work in neighbouring countries.

Inflation has soared to over 1,600 per cent, and continues to rise,
daily. It is the highest in the world and has made the life of ordinary
Zimbabweans unbearable, regardless of their political preferences. We
are all concerned for the turnaround of our economy but this will
remain a dream unless corruption is dealt with severely irrespective of
a person’s political or social status or connections.

The list of justified grievances is long and could go on for many pages.

The suffering people of Zimbabwe are groaning in agony: “Watchman, how much longer the night”? (Is 21:11)

A Crisis of Moral Leadership

The crisis of our Country is, secondly, a crisis of leadership. The
burden of that crisis is borne by all Zimbabweans, but especially the
young who grow up in search of role models. The youth are influenced
and formed as much by what they see their elders doing as by what they
hear and learn at school or from their peers.

If our young people see their leaders habitually engaging in acts
and words which are hateful, disrespectful, racist, corrupt, lawless,
unjust, greedy, dishonest and violent in order to cling to the
privileges of power and wealth, it is highly likely that many of them
will behave in exactly the same manner. The consequences of such
overtly corrupt leadership as we are witnessing in Zimbabwe today will
be with us for many years, perhaps decades, to come. Evil habits and
attitudes take much longer to rehabilitate than to acquire. Being
elected to a position of leadership should not be misconstrued as a
licence to do as one pleases at the expense of the will and trust of
the electorate.

A Spiritual and Moral Crisis

Our crisis is not only political and economic but first and foremost
a spiritual and moral crisis. As the young independent nation struggles
to find its common national spirit, the people of Zimbabwe are reacting
against the “structures of sin” in our society. Pope John Paul II says
that the “structures of sin” are “rooted in personal sin, and thus
always linked to the concrete acts of individuals who introduce these
structures, consolidate them and make them difficult to remove. And
thus they grow stronger, spread, and become the source of other sins,
and so influence people’s behaviour.” [1] The Holy Father stresses that
in order to understand the reality that confronts us, we must “give a
name to the root of the evils which afflict us.” [2] That is what we
have done in this Pastoral Letter.

The Roots of the Crisis

The present crisis in our Country has its roots deep in colonial
society. Despite the rhetoric of a glorious socialist revolution
brought about by the armed struggle, the colonial structures and
institutions of pre-independent Zimbabwe continue to persist in our
society. None of the unjust and oppressive security laws of the
Rhodesian State have been repealed; in fact, they have been reinforced
by even more repressive legislation, the Public Order and Security Act
and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, in
particular. It almost appears as though someone sat down with the
Declaration of Human Rights and deliberately scrubbed out each in turn.

Why was this done? Because soon after Independence, the power and
wealth of the tiny white Rhodesian elite was appropriated by an equally
exclusive black elite, some of whom have governed the country for the
past 27 years through political patronage. Black Zimbabweans today
fight for the same basic rights they fought for during the liberation
struggle. It is the same conflict between those who possess power and
wealth in abundance, and those who do not; between those who are
determined to maintain their privileges of power and wealth at any
cost, even at the cost of bloodshed, and those who demand their
democratic rights and a share in the fruits of independence; between
those who continue to benefit from the present system of inequality and
injustice, because it favours them and enables them to maintain an
exceptionally high standard of living, and those who go to bed hungry
at night and wake up in the morning to another day without work and
without income; between those who only know the language of violence
and intimidation, and those who feel they have nothing more to lose
because their Constitutional rights have been abrogated and their votes
rigged. Many people in Zimbabwe are angry, and their anger is now
erupting into open revolt in one township after another.

The confrontation in our Country has now reached a flashpoint. As
the suffering population becomes more insistent, generating more and
more pressure through boycotts, strikes, demonstrations and uprisings,
the State responds with ever harsher oppression through arrests,
detentions, banning orders, beatings and torture. In our judgement, the
situation is extremely volatile. In order to avoid further bloodshed
and avert a mass uprising the nation needs a new people-driven
Constitution that will guide a democratic leadership chosen in free and
fair elections that will offer a chance for economic recovery under
genuinely new policies.

Our Message of Hope: God is always on the Side of the Oppressed

The Bible has much to say about situations of confrontation. The
conflict between the oppressor and the oppressed is a central theme
throughout the Old and New Testaments.[3] Biblical scholars have
discovered that there are no less than twenty different root words in
Hebrew to describe oppression.

One example is the Creed of the chosen people, which we read on the First Sunday of Lent: “My
Father was a homeless Aramaean. He went down to Egypt to find refuge
there, few in numbers; but there he became a nation, great, mighty and
strong. The Egyptians ill-treated us, they gave us no peace and
inflicted harsh slavery on us. But we called on the Lord, the God of
our fathers. The Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, our toil and
our oppression; and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with mighty hand
and outstretched arm, with great terror, and with signs and wonders .
… ” (Deut 26:5b-8).

The Bible describes oppression in concrete and vivid terms: Oppression
is the experience of being crushed, degraded, humiliated, exploited,
impoverished, defrauded, deceived and enslaved. And the oppressors are
described as cruel, ruthless, arrogant, greedy, violent and tyrannical;
they are called ‘the enemy’. Such words could only have been used by
people who in their own lives and history had an immediate and personal
experience of being oppressed. To them Yahweh revealed himself as the
God of compassion who hears the cry of the oppressed and who liberates
them from their oppressors. The God of the Bible is always on the side
of the oppressed. He does not reconcile Moses and Pharaoh, or the
Hebrew slaves with their Egyptian oppressors. Oppression is sin and
cannot be compromised with. It must be overcome. God takes sides with
the oppressed. As we read in Psalm 103:6: “God who does what is right,

is always on the side of the oppressed”. [4]

When confronted with the politically powerful, Jesus speaks the language

of the boldest among Israel’s prophets. He calls Herod ‘that fox’ (Lk13:32)
and courageously exposes the greed for money, power and adulation of
the political elite. And he warns his disciples never to do likewise: “Among
the gentiles it is the kings who lord it over them, and those who have
authority over them are given the title Benefactor. With you this must
not happen. No, the greatest among you must behave as if he were the
youngest, the leader as if he were the one who serves” (Lk
22:25-27). And he warns Pilate in no uncertain terms that he will be
held to account by God for his use of power over life and death (John
19:11).

Throughout the history of the Church, persecuted Christians have remembered,

prayed and sung the prophetic words of Mary: “[The
Lord] has used the power of his arm, he has routed the arrogant of
heart. He has pulled down princes from their thrones and raised high
the lowly. He has filled the starving with good things, sent the rich
away empty” (Lk1:50-53).

Generations of Zimbabweans, too, throughout their own long history of
oppression and their struggle for liberation, have remembered, prayed
and sung these texts from the Old and New Testaments and found
strength, courage and perseverance in their faith that Jesus is on
their side. That is the message of hope we want to convey in this
Pastoral Letter: God is on your side. He always hears the cry of the
poor and oppressed and saves them.

Conclusion

We conclude our Pastoral Letter by affirming with a clear and
unambiguous Yes our support of morally legitimate political authority.
At the same time we say an equally clear and unambiguous No to power
through violence, oppression and intimidation. We call on those who are
responsible for the current crisis in our Country to repent and listen
to the cry of their citizens. To the people of Zimbabwe we appeal for
peace and restraint when expressing their justified grievances and
demonstrating for their human rights.

Words call for concrete action, for symbols and gestures which keep
our hope alive. We therefore invite all the faithful to a Day of Prayer
and Fasting for Zimbabwe, on Saturday, 14 April 2007. This will be
followed by a Prayer Service for Zimbabwe, on Friday, every week, in
all parishes of our Country. As for the details, each Diocese will make
known its own arrangements.

May the Peace and Hope of the Risen Lord be with you always. Happy Easter.

Prayer For Our Country

God Our Father,

You have given all peoples one common origin,

And your will is to gather them as one family in yourself.

Give compassion to our leaders, integrity to our citizens, and repentance to us all.

Fill the hearts of all women and men with your love

And the desire to ensure justice for all their brothers and sisters.

By sharing the good things you give us

May we ensure justice and equality for every human being,

An end to all division, and a human society built on love,

Lasting prosperity and peace for all.

We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Our Father… Hail Mary… Glory be to the Father …

+Robert C. Ndlovu, Archbishop of Harare (ZCBC President)

+Pius Alec M. Ncube, Archbishop of Bulawayo

+Alexio Churu Muchabaiwa, Bishop of Mutare (ZCBC Secretary/Treasurer)

+Michael D. Bhasera, Bishop of Masvingo

+Angel Floro, Bishop of Gokwe (ZCBC Vice President)

+Martin Munyanyi, Bishop of Gweru

+Dieter B. Scholz SJ, Bishop of Chinhoyi

+Albert Serrano, Bishop of Hwange

+Patrick M. Mutume, Auxiliary Bishop of Mutare

References:

 [1]John Paul II (1987), Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, paragraph 36 
 [2]Ibid 
 [3] The Kairos Document (1985), Challenge to the Church, A Theological Comment on the Political Crisis in South Africa, p 19 f 
 4The Kairos Document (1985), Challenge to the Church, A Theological Comment on the Political Crisis in South Africa, p 20 
 
 


 

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