Political and economic turmoil continue to
threaten the stability of the whole of Zimbabwe, but Catholics, like the media
and direct political opposition, have been suffering from severe oppression by
the government. Although the President of the ruling ZANU-PF party,
Robert Mugabe, is a Jesuit-taught and “practicing” Catholic, he has reacted
particularly negatively to a protest letter published and distributed
throughout the country by the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

The letter calls on the government to end the violence and to be fair, just
and compassionate in governing their people.
Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo
region has strongly led the call for action against the Zimbabwean government that
might have provoked the dissemination of intimidation militias, but has also
arranged for conflict management training for those in his
home region, known for its vocal opposition.

According to an interview
by the New African, a British-based current affairs journal, Mugabe feels
that once the religious turn political, they can no longer be a spiritual
resource and instead must be dealt with as a political group, which may be a
“dangerous path” for them. Now, militias have been ordered to
travel throughout the rural areas, invoking fear—fear to worship because of the
political association due to the letter and fear to criticize the government on
any account. Attendance at church gatherings has diminished as the
militias sit, menacing, around the churches. The parishes who do continue with
services respond by holding a very government-supportive service to deter
militia retribution. The Bishops are worried about the scare tactics
being used and have issued a statement to help church members respond: “We
encourage every Zimbabwean to read the pastoral letter as a guide to
understanding the source of our suffering and let it inspire our prayers and
actions. We call upon every Christian individual and organisation to commit
themselves to the truth of God’s word about the situation and it is only the
truth that will set us free.”

Meanwhile, Archbishop Ncube requested the assistance of the Denis Hurley Peace Institute,
who then “sent numerous delegations to Bulawayo from Bishops and priests to women
and youth groups to interact with their peers in that region. The aim was to
mobilise the churches, NGOs
and civil society to take a prophetic role in building a critical mass in response
to on-going oppression. This conflict management training included such things
as the need to be clearly identified by wearing a recognisable ‘peace mediator’
clothing; the importance of recording the facts of what happened in any given
situation; the need to jointly help detainees by constantly visiting them; the
need to be present in court when people are charged and the importance of
informing the outside world of what is happening…”

The Peace Institute considers these on-going efforts crucial to the resilience
of the Zimbabwean people. Until significant revision of the Constitution and Government
policies occurs, all individuals may be subject to the fear militias and intimidation
methods spreading throughout the country. The conflict management
training gives the people of Zimbabwe another skill with which to persevere.