Ahead of Zimbabwe's much anticipated general election at the end of July, the country's bishops have issued a pastoral letter asking Zimbabweans to vote for the good of the country. They believe that Zimbabwe is at the dawn of something new. They have also expressed some of their concerns in the run-up to the election.
Zimbabwe’s forthcoming elections on 30 July could be a pivotal moment in the country’s history, says the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference (ZCBC). In a pastoral letter, the bishops have called for Zimbabweans to vote for the good of the country and to pray for the country's moment of grace.
The country, which saw a significant change in November 2017 when Robert Mugabe stepped down as president after 30 years in power, transitioned to a civilian administration and new presidential rule under Emmerson Mnangagwa. “A great and tangible sense of relief prevailed, a release from fear, and hope for the future; our politicians, too, were possessed by a new spirit of cooperation. In all this we have much to thank God for,” the bishops said in the pastoral letter entitled “Opening a New Door”.
“In the six months since those events, we have seen many reasons for hope. The government and its president have created new space for political activity, setting a new tone of freedom of speech, and promising free, fair, credible and undisputed elections under reformed electoral processes and institutions with access for international observers,” the bishops said.
A critical change has been the sense of accountability to which ministries and ministers are now held. “The anticorruption rhetoric is now accompanied by legal action against some high profile figures, and parliamentary committees have begun to use their teeth” – a significant shift from the previous administration.
However, the bishops noted the concern of the unconstitutional mode of some of the changes, and in particular the continuing role of the military, which pose risks to the freedom of political processes. In addition, many ordinary Zimbabweans express disappointment that hoped-for changes are yet to be felt – especially in accessing employment and cash.
As the constitutionally-mandated elections approach, the bishops recognise that there is either a sense of great hope and excitement or of fear and anger ending in disillusionment.
“It is true that elections are never, in themselves, the answers to problems. But, as part of a wider programme of transformation, they can be moments of national recommitment,” said the letter. “We believe, we hope and we pray, that the coming elections of 30 July 2018 will be such a moment for us all. Genuinely free and fair elections will return us to constitutionality and the 'will of the people' will clarify what happened in November 2017.”
The bishops have hailed the progress made in preparing the voters' roll, particularly the use of new technology. “Everything that makes for greater transparency will contribute to the credibility of the election and its result both inside and outside Zimbabwe.” The bishops have called for the process of casting and counting votes on the day of the election needs to be well-organised, safe and efficient, protecting both the confidentiality of the individual voter and open to the proper scrutiny of authorised observers.
The ZCBC have also called on individual voters to use the vote for the good of the country. Repeating what was said in a letter of February 2002, A Call to Work for Unity, Peace and Harmony (before the 2002 presidential election), “we call upon all of you once again to make the optimum use of your vote for the good of the country. Use your vote, it is your right and nobody can take it from you. Make your choice in the freedom of your conscience. Do not be afraid, it is a secret. Act as a free citizen…”
The bishops have called on citizens to choose leaders that exemplify selfless service, responsibility, accountability, truthfulness and respect for human dignity and have highlighted the nature of free and fair elections that no individual or small group should be able to determine the results.
“It is certain, therefore, that some will be disappointed. The issues that face us are not simple, and we are divided in our opinions about the way forward. It is quite possible that the results of this election may give no individual leader or party an outright or clear majority… We must go into the process committed to accept the results of a free and fair vote by the people, whatever they are.”
The bishops recognised that the Government of National Unity of 2009 was, for some, a disappointment. “But a result that accurately indicates a more or less equal division of opinions would be a sign, not of electoral failure, but of success. It would invite us to a new and challenging kind of politics, a new cooperation and harmony based on reasoned argument, generous compromise and respectful toleration. It would be a door to a new Zimbabwe.”
The bishops have said that whatever the results, a new Zimbabwean politics will need to be more collaborative, inclusive and based not on one or two leaders, however effective and charismatic, but rather on strong democratic institutions that embody and secure the values of our democracy, regulate our politics and administer peace, truth and justice to all.
The bishops have called on Zimbabweans to look beyond the elections and set a new focus on the type of society that is desired in Zimbabwe.
“We need to look at the bigger picture. Ultimately, what we are voting for is not this or that government but rather a particular kind of society for ourselves and for our children.”
The bishops referred to the “Vision and Values” of the document The Zimbabwe We Want: Towards a National Vision for Zimbabwe produced in September 2006 by the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Council of Churches and the Catholic bishops:
“Zimbabwe needs a new national vision to restore our self-confidence, dignity and hope.” In that document, representatives of Christian leaders of Zimbabwe proposed a vision for Zimbabwe in that a sovereign and democratic nation would be characterised by good governance as reflected in all its structures and operations at all levels and in all our institutions.
The current vision of the ZCBC is of a reconciled Zimbabwean society living in harmony, justice and peace, in a democratic developmental State.
“As Zimbabweans, we need to contribute as equal and respected members to solutions to problems such as migration, environmental degradation and terrorism that are addressed in groupings like SADC, the African Union, the Commonwealth and the United Nations.”
The bishops believe a future Zimbabwe could draw heavily on the resources of Catholic Social Teaching and have called on Catholics to read and reflect on The Zimbabwe We Want and on pastoral letters from the conference. “We call especially on Catholic universities and tertiary institutions to stimulate and sustain a debate about these matters that will guide those we will elect on 30 July 2018 to shape the policies for a Zimbabwe that we all want.”
“All of this will come to nothing without prayer. We are at a new 'Kairos moment' in the history of Zimbabwe, a moment of grace.”
The bishops have called on all faithful to make use of the prayer attached below individually and collectively. “We call on all priests, religious and faithful; and on all women and men of good will to demonstrate our joint trust and confidence in God and witness to our faith in his Son Jesus Christ our Lord by praying together with us and spreading the message of this pastoral letter.”
PRAYER FOR PEACEFUL ELECTIONS
Almighty God, you are the Creator of all. You have given us this beautiful land of Zimbabwe and its people. You have given us your Son Jesus Christ to usher in your Kingdom, and to show us how to work and live together in love, peace, harmony and justice. Thank you for the opportunity in our elections to choose leaders who will help us to establish your Kingdom in our land.
Lord Jesus, you preached a Kingdom to which all, without exception, are invited. It is like a big tree where all the birds are free to build their nests (Mt.13:31-32). It is the great banquet to which all are invited (Mt.22:1-14). As the Good Shepherd, you love, reverence and respect each one of your sheep, so much so that you die for them (Jn.10:15).
May all Zimbabweans be free to vote according to their conscience in this important election. May this election give us leaders who truly serve the people, just as you came not to be served but to serve (Mk10:45). You want all your children to have the fullness of life (Jn. 10:10).
May this election be conducted in an honest, truthful and transparent manner. Each day we pray that your Kingdom of love, peace, justice and freedom, may come (Mt.6:10). May our prayer not be an empty plea, or just a dream, but may your Kingdom be realized in Zimbabwe as we conclude by praying together in the words Our Lord taught us: “Our Father…”