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Zimbabwe is between a crisis and an opportunity says faith leadership

Zimbabwe’s faith leaders have called for calm, national prayer, respect and a government of national unity amid the political upheaval. 

The Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHOCD), which includes the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference, made the call in a press release acknowledging the confusion and anxiety many Zimbabweans have been feeling for some time. “While the changes have been rapid in the last few days, the real deterioration has been visible for everyone to see for a long time, especially during the public political rallies of the ruling party, coupled with the deteriorating socio-economic situation,” said Bishop Ishmael Mukuwanda, chairman of the interfaith group.

The group said the problem moved beyond economic turmoil stating that there was a strong sense that the country’s hard-earned Constitution was not being taken seriously. “There is not enough confidence whether the separation of the three arms of the State, the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary are functioning in proper relationships of checks and balances. There is a deep concern that there seem to be no clear distinction between the ruling party and the Government. There is concern that the priorities of the poor have become relegated to charity of those who have access to national resources without proper commitment to addressing the root-causes of these problems. There is a general feeling that the wheels of democracy have become stuck in the mud of personalised politics where the generality of the citizenry plays an insignificant role.”

It is this lack of democratic renewal and the resulting stagnation, sterility and fatigue that has culminated in the current situation.

The statement follows the signing of a memorandum of association between the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference and the Zimbabwe Council of Churches at the end of October. The group has this week collectively declared the situation not only as a crisis, but one of opportunity for the birth of a new nation. “Our God created everything out of chaos. In order for something new to be born we need to clearly define our problem. Proper naming of the problem will give us a clear sense of where we must go as a nation.”

Bishop Mukuwanda acknowledged the situation was not just the doing of the country’s ruling party, ZANU-PF, but could also be the result of the “connivance of the different arms of the state and complicity of the Church and civil society”.

“All of us at some point failed to play our roles adequately. The Church has lost its prophetic urge driven by personality cults and superstitious approaches to socio-economic and political challenges.”

He said civil society had lost the bigger picture of total emancipation of the population and many people in the ruling party enjoyed unbridled access to the trough of patronage. He added that media fanned the politics of hatred by giving it prime space in the name of sales and profits. “All Zimbabweans must take some blame for our current situation.”

The faith leaders have called  for five concrete actions: a call to prayer, a call to calm and peace, a call to respect human dignity, a call for a transitional government of national unity, and a call to national dialogue.

The ZHOCD have called the nation to a moment of prayer for repentance, deep reflection and discernment. “We all need to go before God and ask God to forgive us for ways in which we contributed to the situation through neglect or wrong action. We need individual and collective deep reflection on what this means for all of us as individuals, families, churches and the nation.” The group said prayer was essential to find meaning in the situation.

The group also had a message for teh Zimbabwe Defense Force, who had taken control in the “non-coup”. “We want to make it clear to them that it is their responsibility to ensure that human dignity and rights are respected. This is not a time to allow for lawlessness and vindictive and selective application of the law.”

The ZHOCD had called for the formalisation of a transitional government of national unity that will oversee the smooth transition to a free and fair election and for its citizens a table of dialogue. “The current situation gives us an opportunity to reach out to each other. There is no way we are going to go back to the political arrangements we had some days ago. We are in a situation that cannot be solved by anything other than dialogue.”

The group have called for a National Envisioning Platform (NEP) that will capture the aspirations of all the sectors of society. The church alongside other stakeholders in the private sector, academia, and other spheres can establish a NEP as an inclusive space to enable Zimbabweans from all walks of life to contribute towards a democratic transition to the Zimbabwe needed.

The bishops said the Church can be a conduit for the healing of the nation.

“Zimbabweans can find each other again as they did in the 1960s and 1970s when they joined hands against the colonial forces; Zimbabweans can find each other again like they did when the signed the Unity Accord and stopped the self-destruction in Matabeleland and Midlands; Zimbabweans can find each other again like they did when the produced the current national Constitution; when they shared power during the Government of National Unity; there is no chasm that is too big not to be crossed through the power of reconciliation. Without reconciliation and openness to a process of shared national envisioning, we are all doomed.”

The ZHOCD said this was the opportunity needed in the current crisis – an opportunity that allows us to “embrace our situation as a Kairos, an opportunity given to us by God to dream together that another Zimbabwe is possible!” SA.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.